Planning Phase

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After opening a mission, the planning phase of the simulation begins. The planning phase provides a text briefing, interactive contour map, and terrain preview (F1) to the user(s) to plan a course of action for the mission. The mission clock does not run during the planning phase.

Creating a Plan

Generally, the creation of a plan involves four steps, read the briefing; evaluate the map view and the terrain; mentally formulate a plan of execution (CO); and, in a network session, discuss the plan of execution with other users so that the plan can be effectively executed.

Utilizing Map Graphics

An example of map graphics applied to the map


Map graphics is the term used for graphics that are applied to the map in the form of lines, shapes, or predefined symbols. These map graphics can be created and saved to the scenario itself, or created in the planning phase and action phase by the user(s). To create a map graphic, right click anywhere on the map where you want the graphic to be drawn and select "New graphic" and then select the graphic type that you want to place on the map from the sub menus. The choices above the separator are standard shapes or custom lines and regions, while the choices below the separator are predefined graphics from FM 101-5-1.

Once a map graphic is placed on the map, you are able to click on the symbol and drag it around to a new location and, after you left click on the graphic and a pink out line box appears, you are able to left click and drag on any of the nodes on the outline and stretch the graphic to a new size (holding down shift while grabbing the node will scale the graphic, preserving its aspect ratio). You can also select left click on the map graphic and then left click on the gray text field and type in a text label. Additionally, if you right click on a map graphic a menu will appear that will allow advanced editing of the graphic. This allows you to make advanced changes such as changing the color and scale of the text label, change the style of the graphic itself (dotted lines, dashed lines, solid lines, etc.), changing the color of the graphic, or flipping the graphic horizontally or vertically. In a network session mission, right clicking on the graphic will give you an option to send it to various elements on your side which is vital for planning.

Creating Routes

Extensive routes, waypoints and BPs applied to an AI controlled side (spawned units on the sides)


During the planning phase and action phase, the user can specify routes and waypoints, along with the assigned tactics for both, to units under their control.

To create a route for a unit under your control, right click on the center of the unit's icon and select "New route". Next, select the tactic (Engage, Assault, March, etc.) that you want the route to use by left clicking one of the selections. Next, left click on the map where you want the route to go and each left click will create a node. Right click anywhere on the map when you are done creating the route and the last created node will become a waypoint.

You may also create independent route chains (routes that are not initially assigned to or originate from a unit) through the use of user created waypoints. For more information on creating routes, see Moving Units on Routes.

Creating Waypoints

Waypoints are created in one of two ways, as an end to a route (see above) or by directly right clicking on the map and selecting "New waypoint". A waypoint created in the latter fashion is useful to create an independent leg of a route that you may want several units to use.

Independent route legs are useful for coordinating march movement along roads or the movement of rear area support units. For example, two waypoints can be placed on the map and then a march route can be created between the two (by right clicking on the first waypoint and selecting "New route", then left click on the second waypoint to attach the route to it, then right click anywhere to exit the route creation process). Once this is done, a route will appear between the two waypoints with an arrow pointing to the direction of travel. This route is independent because it is not assigned to, or originating from any unit. The user can then route many units to the first waypoint in the independent route chain and have multiple units move to the first waypoint, then go into a march tactic and column formation and follow the road. This approach is a lot easier than attempting to assign a road march unit to many individual units.

Creating Battle Positions

Route, waypoint and a battle position


A battle position is the unofficial term of a waypoint (or the unit icon itself) that has a tactics order assigned to it. To assign a tactic to a waypoint or stationary unit, right click on either and select "tactics" and left click on one of the desired tactics in the list. This will apply a tactical behavior to the waypoint or stationary and place a bracket ] shape on the map with the inside of the bracket marking the direction of the unit's rear.

Once a battle position is created, the user can left click and hold on the bracket and move the mouse to rotate the facing of the bracket, thus changing the facing of the unit. Orient the bracket so that the outside of the bracket (the side without the "legs") is facing towards the enemy.

A BP sector of fire will also be present, which has the appearance of a funnel. Click and hold the left mouse button on either the left or right side and drag the mouse to adjust the size of the funnel. This is specifies the direction and width that you want the unit to concentrate its attention, with a larger funnel having less situational awareness in the designated area than a smaller one. The pink shading inside the funnel represents the maximum effective range of the unit's longest range weapon. In the center of the funnel you will see a perpendicular line with a black or transparent circle which connects both sides of the funnel. The circle is black if the unit does not have a line of sight (LOS) to that spot on the ground, and it is a clear circle when it does. The function of this circle is for the user to left click and drag the circle to the spot in which the user wants to be the center of the sector and is the area in which the user wants the AI to establish a hull-down position to ... in the absence of known enemy units. Once that enemy has been sighted, the unit will adjust its positioning in accordance to the set tactics and fire control commands.

Tools and Options

There are several options and tools available in the planning phase which come in handy when creating a plan.

Contour Line Spacing

In the upper part of the planning map view, select the "Options" menu. From this menu, select "Contour line spacing" and select a distance from the following menu. This distance is denoting the elevation between contour line intervals. For example, when 10 m is selected, each contour line on the map is 10 meters apart in elevation. Use smaller intervals to better see subtle elevation changes (such as in a desert environment) and select longer intervals to remove clutter and better see large elevation changes.

Range Rings

In the upper part of the planning map view, select the "Options" menu. From this menu, select "Range rings". This will check the selection and the map view will be shaded with range ring circles around all friendly units. The darker the shade the more units are within range in that area and vice versa. This selection is useful to see where you have the highest concentration of firepower and to understand how to better disperse your forces in the defense.

BP Sectors of Fire

In the upper part of the planning map view, select the "Options" menu. From this menu, select "BP sectors of fire". This will check the selection and the map view will display all sectors of fire for every unit on the map which currently has a stationary tactics order. This is useful to determine interlocking sectors of fire and which sectors may not be effectively covered in the defense.

Line of Sight Tools

While holding the ALT key, click and hold the left mouse button on the map and drag the mouse pointer. The mouse pointer will be replaced with a circle with a cross hair inside of it and a line will be extended from the initial mouse click point to where ever you move the mouse on the map. This line represents the line of sight (LOS) from the initial click point to the new location of the map. The circle will appear transparent when LOS from initial click point to cross hair location is clear, and the circle will appear black when the LOS from initial click point to cross hair location is obstructed. This tool is useful to quickly determine LOS from point to point anywhere on the map.

Map view, LOS mode


You may also select "LOS" from the "DISPLAY" selection on the right side of the screen in order to change the map display mode to line of sight mode. Once LOS mode is activated, left click anywhere on the map to have Steel Beasts calculate a LOS from that point. From the clicked area; grey shaded areas are areas of dead space, or areas where an enemy vehicle would not be visible; pink shaded areas are areas where most of an enemy vehicle would be visible; white shaded areas are places where only the top of a typical vehicle would be visible.

3D View

At any time during the planning phase, all users may choose to examine the terrain (and see the time of day and ground conditions) by right clicking on the map and selecting "View" from the menu (the F1 key will also take the user to the 3D view, but they will be unable to specify a location). When in the 3D view, navigate the terrain by pressing W to move forward / accelerate, X to move backwards / decelerate, S to stop, A and D to strafe left and right, Q and Z to move the vantage point up and down. While in the 3D view, left click anywhere to use the mouse to control the viewing direction. Press and hold N to zoom the view in, and press and hold SHIFT N to zoom out. Pressing Numpad + will toggle a simulated night vision thermal view of the area.

Although all regions of the map will be visible, no enemy units will be shown in this mode. Return to the map view by pressing F5; switch back to the 3D view by pressing F1.

When you return to the map view, there will be a small red tadpole icon which represents your 3D view vantage point. The circle on the icon is the camera's location, the tail of the icon represents your viewing direction.

Executing the Plan

Once the user understands the plan and is ready for to begin the mission, the user should click the green "Ready" button in the upper right of the map screen. Once all users have done so, a flashing text message stating that all users are ready will be display on the screen. The host can then start the mission, but the host may choose to start the mission before all users have pressed the "Ready" button. Once the plan is complete and the host chooses to start the mission, a timer will tick down and the action phase begins.

Planning Phase Etiquette (multiplayer)

The planning phase is a time where the CO is evaluating both the terrain and the briefing and is also creating map graphics in order to formulate a plan of execution. This process is not instantaneous and can take quite a while depending on the size of the scenario. There are many etiquette rules that subordinate users, and new users especially, should abide by:

  • Read the briefing. There is nothing worse than a user who cannot be troubled to read the briefing because of ADD, general sloth like laziness or some other "special condition". At the very least, all users should skim the briefing for useful information and should always read any notes since they usually contain specifics or technicalities that apply to the basic function of the scenario. An effective CO should definitely go over the basics of the plan as stated in the briefing, but users still need to read the briefing to ensure that you are aware of the details.
  • Minimal disturbance should be made to the CO user. Again, there is nothing worse than a user asking "what's the plan?" or "what do you want me to do?" while the CO is working away at map graphics and attempting to digest the briefing while other users are sitting around with their thumb in their anal cavity. If you are desperate for something to do, read the briefing, or ask the CO if they would like you to add reference point labels to the map.
  • Avoid striking up lengthy conversations about the usual nonsense during the planning phase since it distracts the CO from digesting the briefing. Generally speaking, if you have nothing productive to add to the briefing then just LISTEN or use this time to go to the 3D view (F1) and look over the terrain (this is called leader's recon in the real world).
  • Avoid drawing nonsensical (or obsene, or derogatory) graphics or text on the map itself. If you are a budding Picasso and you cannot help yourself, then draw map graphics in the white space boundary off the edge of the map.
  • Assist the CO where possible. This can be done by naming key locations on the map such as road junctions, towns, roads, hill tops or any other notable feature. This will provide reference points for direction and will save valuable time and possibly afford more time to discussion.
  • Avoid directly challenging the CO's plan, tactical competence, or intelligence level. That is certainly not to say that advice and/or suggestions should not be offered. When offering advice, just think to yourself, "self, how would I like to be addressed if I were the CO and had been creating a plan for 15 minutes?" In other words, avoid ever helpful comments (sarcasm) such as "this plan sucks", or the ever popular "this is a stupid plan". Instead of useless and abrasive remarks, offer suggestions prefaced by "can I offer a suggestion?" The CO has taken on, or has been stuck with, extra responsibility and should at least be afforded the respect for that extra responsibility. The fact of the matter is, one initial plan is usually just as good as the next; the real issue and test of leadership always coordination, teamwork, adaptation and flow of information, not that the plan must be created by a manifestation of Sun Tzu.
  • If a CO is indecisive in his initial plan then do not become a usurper, tactfully prod the CO for decisiveness until a definitive course of action is decided upon. Some COs may discuss and think out loud and others may ask for so many suggestions that the overall plan becomes unclear. By asking the CO what the core plan is, this will ensure that the CO restates the plan in a clear, concise, and decisive form.
  • Ask questions. If it is not clear what you need to be doing during the course of the scenario or if the commander's intent is unclear, then by all means, ask away! It is far better to ask for clarification than it is to wander around the map aimlessly and become the resident Blue Falcon.
  • Follow the plan. Even if you do not approve of the plan, follow it anyway. As mentioned, feel free to provide tactful suggestions to the CO but in the end it is HIS CALL. If you have brilliant tactical ideas or visions that you think are not being fully realized, then you need to take the reins as CO in the next available scenario and try your hand at it: otherwise, shut it and follow the plan. As the US Army says, every good leader must also be able to be led.
  • Don't be an Monday morning quarterback. If the scenario ends and the CO's plan failed miserably then don't abrasively critique and chastise him about it in the AAR. Again, if you are so brilliant to come up with a plan that never fails then take the reigns of the CO in the next available scenario and put your infallibility to the test.
  • Help out those who are trying their hand at being a CO. Do not censure, especially if the user lacks CO experience. Seeing the CO take severe criticism or condemnation discourages others from giving it a try.

A Practical Guide to Quick Planning

This is a collection of quotes from the SB-forum, the bulk of which were made by Ssnake, and some additional ones by Volcano and Dejawolf. Compiled by Koen.


Why should you use the planning-phase?

Well, a bit of planning can mean the difference between major defeat, or major victory. As in playing chess, your plan anticipates the move of your opponent, and you move accordingly. The further along you manage to anticipate someones move, the less of a chance your opponent has of beating you.

Often the user underestimates the amount of information overload and thinks that he can manage to save his platoons by giving orders on the fly. That is inviting the enemy to think and act faster than you can. You will only react to his actions. More often than not the time that the human player needs to identify that there is a problem, its location, and to click an escape route for the platoon in trouble is enough for the enemy force to kill the entire platoon.

Should you plan for each and every possible contingency?

No, that is impossible. Indeed, you can plan for hours routes & battle positions for each and every unit, with elaborate embark conditions. But how do you know where to stop and defend in your plan, before you even see the enemy …? And once in the game you may realize the enemy is on the left flank and you planned to go toward the right … to change plans is complicated and takes too much time to co-ordinate... by the time you get everything going you lost 3 of 4 units …

Also, often people put together a brilliant plan and forget about alternatives. The plan would have worked, if only the enemy had played by the book. Unfortunately the enemy has a tendency to avoid just that...

Therefore, you should look at planning as a way to "prepare improvisation". This may strike you as an oxymoron, but it isn't. You may not be able to predict every one of your own and the enemy's future moves. So you must adapt to a given situation that will only seldomly abide your own idea how the battle should develop (also known as Moltke's "No plan survives enemy contact" principle).


Let's see how quick & dirty planning looks like:

Analyze the mission briefing

What does it tell you about the enemy, and his likely intent?

What does the mission designer/task force commander want to accomplish, and which role are you going to play in that plan?

Given that you have a clear understanding of your mission, what assets are under your control? What are the special strengthes and weaknesses of the platoons and special vehicles that you can use to accomplish your mission ? The "rock - scissors - stone" principle prevails:

  • Infantry's good against tanks in the defense, especially in rugged terrain with limited field of view.
  • Artillery is good against infantry.
  • Tanks can move fast to avoid artillery, and can withstand close misses as well.
  • Missiles are good against any vehicle at long distance, but suck at short distances.
  • Tanks can kill everything at medium distances.
  • Infantry is optimized for melee.

I am putting so much emphasis on this because few people start a game with a clear understanding of their own goals. They just bumble along - I'm going to run into enemy, I'm going to try to be as good as a gunner as possible, and I want to score many kills. The plan? Oh, right. I'll develop that on the fly...

Analyze the terrain

Most likely, either you or the enemy is supposed to move. Moving forces is dangerous. It's much better to sit still and just watch, then open fire on unsuspecting victims.

Anyone who is supposed to move should try to find a way to conceal his movement. If I can't spot properly while driving, I want at least not be seen, if possible. Avoiding being seen is difficult, but often possible. There may be a slight depression in that seemingly flat terrain. There might be a hill, or some other major or minor undulation. This is usually good to hide forces, at least for some time. If you are supposed to move, look for these elements. If the enemy is supposed to move - look for these elements too! Because you need to find spots from where you can observe what's going on in those hidden areas.

Sometimes it is impossible to move stealthily. There are ways to deal with that. Above all, minimize the duration of your exposure. If you need to cross open space, do it quickly. Second, provide yourself covering fire. If you know or strongly suspect that enemy may be watching the area that you want to cover - distract him. You could eventually position a platoon to observe and engage enemy that is on the lookout for you. You could call in an artillery strike. If the enemy decided to go after you, at least it's going to cost him. Or, if he does haul ass, he won't shoot you. Either way is fine. Well, if you are trying to kill moving enemy, a competent enemy may do similar stuff. He may distract you with a weak force, or attempt to draw an ambush by sending a small vehicle. If you open fire, he knows where you are and can call in artillery, or engage you with direct fire from a different location.

Now put everything together in a plan on the map.

Battle positions (BP) : you can at least create as many promising battle positions (together with an unconditioned retreat route each!) without necessarily connecting them. That way you have the flexibility to send any platoon to any location and don't have to worry about good positions since they're already marked. Indeed, as no plan works out when confronted with reality, you would either have to create an over-complex plan that would be way too complicated in real life - or you just visit your units from time to time, depending on how the local situation develops. Creating a couple of promising battle positions all over the place requires the least amount of planning time (short of not planning at all) and still saves a lot of time in the action phase.

It doesn't help much to place a BP with "defend tactics", if no unconditioned retreat route is present. Keep in mind that "Defend" and "Guard" orders equal to "Hold" if there is no unconditioned route attached to a battle position. In the former two orders units need an egress route to behave properly. If no egress route has been given they interpret it as a "die in place" order. The more unconditioned retreat routes you create for each of your platoons at each checkpoint, the less time you need to spend hastily figuring out a solution when they report a problem. "Permission to retreat" usually means "Too late Sir, we're dead by the time you give a new order to help us out". Your ultimate goal is to create a battleplan that just requires you to make key decisions.

I'm somewhat reserved to putting conditionals to retreat routes. They are the last hope for a unit if the scenario designer did not think about all possible solutions. You need a thorough understanding how the internal logic works, though. For defend and guard tactics, there is a threat threshold (described in the manual, especially the part about implicit embark conditions) which will cause them to take a retreat route ... unless that route is "blocked" by an embark condition that somehow denies using this emergency exit because the condition returns negative on testing. If you create a number of reverse speed assault routes with embark conditions, and add a single unconditioned retreat route, things should work out fine.

Another template I like to use is a setup of four waypoints 1a, 1b, 2a, and 2b. 1a and 2a are alternative firing positions. Both have a retreat route to 1b and 2b respectively with the embark condition "Unit (this) has arrived at 1a (or 2a)" with a delay of 1:20 to 1:50 (depending on how paranoid you are). That way they will move to the alternate firing position whenever they have stayed long enough in one place that artillery might be inbound. Parallel to each conditioned retreat route I also have an unconditioned leading from 1a and 2a to a common position 3. That way they're not glued into place because the timer hasn't run off if they come under effective fire. I then copy the entire route chain and paste it to all kinds of places where the terrain is suitable.

Also you can mark on your map those areas where enemy presence is going to be likely. Once that you anticipate the maneuver of your enemy, you're in a big advantage because you can act accordingly instead of being constantly surprised by his actions.

Then I create routes mainly to the starting positions, because all planning beyond that point will be useless because of enemy interference. Basically I order a few units to go to more forward checkpoints and jump in one of them. when they're safely there, I continue with other units.... Of course the recce assets would be in the front to ascertain the situation. If that is not true then no amount of planning or seat of the pants adaptation is going to work if you do not know enemy location or composition.

Still, wherever I find a good movement passage opportunity, I create a movement path. That way I just need to connect a unit to this movement path, but I don't have to waste precious time with detailed route plotting in the middle of a hailstorm of steel. I pay special attention to bridges, and create routes across them with column formation to make sure that my tanks will stay on the road, and cross the bridge at max speed with wide spacing. This minimizes the casualty rate.

At the end of my planning efforts, the map is cluttered with battle positions, battle position systems, predefined standard movement routes and areas where enemy presence is going to be likely. Now – if I’m really in the mood to refine things ... - I can reevaluate my initial plan:

  • Does the terrain analysis support my first guess, or am I forced to reconsider the plan?
  • Which positions support each other and can be used for a combined movement of independent platoons, e.g. platoon 1 covering the advance of platoon 2 (as shown in "101 tactics - bounding overwatch")?
  • Is there a gap between safe passages from one BP system to the next that will force me to cross open ground?
  • If so, will I need artillery to suppress the enemy? If that is the case, I must remember not to use up too many artillery requests before this moment comes, or I may be forced to wait too long, losing initiative.
  • Similarly, will the enemy be forced to pass unfavorable terrain, or is there a likely passage for his movement that I cannot observe (dead space)? What would I do if I were the enemy, how could I endanger my own action the most? Finally: If the enemy refuses to play ball, how should I react?

Again, you don't have to create elaborate spider webs of movement routes with complicated embark conditions. It doesn't hurt to have them, but what counts is that you have a good understanding of what you want to accomplish, how you want to accomplish, and how the enemy could prevent you from doing it. If you can answer these questions, it's a good start.

Lastly, to really sharpen your planning and thus survival skills: take the AAR seriously and use it to its full extent. Sometimes beginners are frustrated after the untimely end of a mission that they don't want to review the disaster. It may be painful to watch it, but it is necessary in order to learn.

* Not only an answer to the question "Which #%&*$# got me, and where was he sitting!?". That can be interesting as well, but is of secondary importance.

* How did he get there, and why did you not spot him are more useful questions.

* How could you deny him access to such a firing position next time, and if you can't how could you mask your movement?

* If that isn't possible, could you at least suppress him with artillery fire?

* If that wouldn't be possible either, it's time to question the plan in general.

Other useful basic AAR questions are:

  • What was my plan?
  • What would I do again, next time?
  • What would I do differently?
  • How would I do things differently?
  • Is there a common pattern in all engagements/duel situations, or one where I won, or in those where I lost
  • Were my losses a matter of personal skill, or did other factors shape the situation to my advantage/disadvantage?
  • Could I have used the terrain better?
  • Could I have used other assets: Artillery? - Infantry? - Engineers? - Air defense? - Anti-Tank Guided Missiles?
  • Would I change the sequence in which the assets were used, do I need a specific vehicle with its unique capability at a different location, or at a different time?

Hint: If your explanation often is "my ammo was crap" or "my tank doesn't have enough armor" it is time to question your general tactics. Maybe you didn't choose the right ammunition, maybe not the right engagement distance, maybe you should try and shoot vulnerable spots (of course you then need to figure out what the vulnerable spots of all the different vehicles are - these are usually the flanks, ammo stowage, crew compartment, the top, the rear). If you can't come close enough, you need to use the terrain better. Or lure the enemy into a specific spot. Or you need to apply artillery better. Maybe you even need to violate your mission orders. Some scenarios are designed in a way that they can be won only if you apply "out of the box" thinking.

Execution – some tactical tips

I tend to "poke" at the enemy lines with my recce units and perform "recon by fire." After sizing up where the weakest point in the line is (and checking for mine fields!) I throw the bulk of my forces at the weak point. Find out the weakness in his defense - there always is one. If the enemy is strong about everywhere - well, then he's probably weak everywhere at the same time (of course you just may happen to be badly outnumbered).

Also, it is stupid to evenly distribute your forces in an attack. Do it like a sabot: Smash fast into a small gap, and make the gap wide in the process by deep penetration. The enemy will either be forced to take back his entire defense line, or face a situation of being severely flanked by the intruders. "Remember, punch with a closed fist; not spread fingers" (H. Guderian)

Similarly, do not attempt to hold an entire line as the defender, this will thin out your forces, and you won't have necessary reserves once the enemy exploits a weakness in your defense. "He who defends everything will defend nothing in the end." (Frederick II. of Prussia)

More about tactics here: http://www.steelbeasts.com/sbwiki/index.php/Tactics

Scenario Phases
Scenario Design Planning Phase Action Phase After Action Review Phase

Reference

FM 101-5-1 Operational Terms and Graphics
Definition of a Blue Falcon