Flipping The Ranks

Words are weird. English words are weirder, thanks to that language’s status as an unashamed word thief. Military rank words, coming from even more different backgrounds, are arguably the weirdest yet. After some brainstorming, I’ve thought of a way where the rank structure we know could be flipped on its head. Even more so than, for lack of a better word, the “radical” rank system used by the SS and 1930s USSR, which involved variants of plain “unit leader”.

The lowest tier of personnel could be called “generals”, because they would make up the general population of the military. The highest tier could be called “privates”, because it would be a holdover from the time when leaders (openly) had private armies. May not be the most plausible, but it’s still an interesting worldbuilding exercise.

Large Special Forces Units

The term “special forces” can have many different meanings. The western definition of “special operations forces” implies the ultimate operators. The Soviet definition of “special purpose forces” just means those trained for a certain role. Thus engineers and chemical personnel technically count as “special troops”, and many “SPF” are mainly recon personnel.

Training Circular 7-100.2 differentiates “SPF” and “commandos”, the former capable of things comparable to western-style SOF like training/leading allied irregulars and the latter capable of more “muscular” missions that require a bigger conventional force (commandos are listed as being able to operate at up to battalion level, something SPF never would even during direction action missions). There is a large amount of overlap, and they are more similar than different.

Then there are the “special forces” that would be considered just larger light infantry formations by the standards of other countries. Or not even that, with Stryker/BTR formations viable for (and sometimes expected to be used in) air assault operations due to their larger dismount size and some “SF” riding in APCs when operating with mechanized forces and/or facing threats that require appropriate protection.

Thus the clearest definition boils down to a vague “units with personnel trained to at least theoretically higher standards and intended to conduct tasks above and beyond those assigned to run of the mill formations”. Interestingly, I’m seeing (with the precedent of Syrian commandos in Lebanon and the proposed TRICAP Ranger/Helicopter formations) certain “special forces” being used an antitank reserve with their increased skill, more and better AT weapons than comparable line infantry formations, and the ability to be deployed quickly.

The Tiers of Fighters/Opponents

So, boxing (and to a lesser degree mixed martial arts, though that is an inherently higher-variance sport) has developed a sort of tier system for its numerous fighters. Title Bout Boxing, through its auto-scheduler enabling you to run numerous simulated matches, is good for determining just how good fighters in one tier can fare against those in another. What I’ve found is that cheap thriller opponents can also fit into these categories.

  • Tomato Cans. The bottom of the barrel. They’re set up in deliberate squash matches, most often for the purpose of artificially inflating a fighter’s record. Or providing a spectacle. Tomato cans are always ranked as “0” in Title Bout Boxing, and the only way they can defeat any kind of significant fighter is through an injury/cut/occasional fluke knockout.
  • Journeymen. The middle of the pack. These are the low-tier filler fighters which everyone has to pass through, and which define the median that people diverge from. In Title Bout, they’re ranked 0-2, and aren’t quite as hapless as tomato cans against clearly superior opponents.
  • Gatekeepers/Trial Horses. These are fighters intended to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Barring the above lucky moments, they aren’t expected to credibly challenge for a title themselves. But they can determine if a prospect is all that or not. In Title Bout, they’re typically ranked 2-4.
  • Fringe Contender. This is where the lines start to blur. In-game, they’re a 5-7 ranked fighter who can occasionally win against superior opponents “legitimately” (I’ve found that being able to win via decision is a mark of legitimacy, as are knockouts/TKOs that aren’t due to cuts). Often they’re genuine champions by national/regional standards.
  • Contender. 7+ ranked fighters in-game who can consistently win legitimately, even at low percentage chances overall, against other contenders. I chose the game’s 7 rating as the line because that’s the in-game rating of Ingemar Johanssen, widely considered one the weakest world champions ever.

As always, perspective is important. Even tomato cans are better at punching than any normal person, and the difference is simply a matter of degree. Someone good by lower standards can still be the equivalent of a tomato can against an all time legend.

The Wheeze Kids Approach

The advent of free agency in North American sports brought about one particular form of win-now team building. Namely, grab a bunch of older veteran players with (theoretical) capability, and hope for the best. I’ve dubbed it the “Wheeze Kids” approach, after the nickname given to the 1983 Phillies. Built around a 42 year old Pete Rose, a 39 year old Joe Morgan, and a 41-year old Tony Perez, they made it to the World Series (only to lose to a young Cal Ripken’s Orioles).

Sometimes the Wheeze Kids approach succeeds. More often it serves as an expensive failure, albeit one that the players and their agents aren’t exactly too worked up about thanks to the paychecks. Whatever its worth in the actual world, I love assembling teams of “wheeze kids” in simulations, to see just how viable aging players remain.

The Style of Camouflage

Camouflage uniforms have sometimes been issued in limited amounts, especially during the World Wars. In some cases, they were chosen for practical reasons. Recon troops and others who needed legitimately better concealment were given them. One interesting case is the US only really deploying camouflage uniforms in the Pacific theater in WWII, as the Germans loved camo, and thus using them in Europe caused too much confusion. Another one is how a lot of armies that previously used the classic M81 Woodland have updated their uniforms, since the ubiquity of that pattern has made it very easy for enemies to make disguises.

But there have also been cultural reasons, for lack of a better term. And not just bandwagoning like the infamous American “every service stomps into a digital camo pattern” experience in the 2000s. I’ve heard that the postwar Bundeswehr was slow to adopt camouflage uniforms because of their association with the Third Reich. And in places like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, camouflage has been reserved for elite units as a sort of status symbol. There’s also police forces adopting blue and/or gray pseudo-camouflage to show a sort of “military power”.

This aspect of camouflage uniforms is both ironic (something intended to blend in is chosen because of its looks) and interesting to me. As is the reputation that seemingly neutral camo patterns develop based on who uses them.

The Super Bunkers

I’ve long been intrigued by “super-bunkers”, made by and for a combination of overly paranoid governments and survivalists with too much money. For the former, I’ve liked Albania’s mess of bunkers to the point where I made my very first Command scenario centered around that country. For the latter, well, it’s bemusing to look at the entries of bitter rival (to put it mildly) bunker-builders Atlas Survival and Rising S .

Bunkers range from the small, legitimately practical and affordable to the over-the-top. On one end are essentially beefed-up storm shelters. On the other is Rising S’ “The Aristocrat”, which boasts a swimming pool and bowling alley (!).

The practicality of these, especially for private citizens, has unsurprisingly been called into question. There’s the expense (especially for upkeep) and the challenge of getting to the bunker, since even the advanced ones are hard to live in full time. This happened even to John Rourke, who was caught far away from his “Retreat” and had to fight his way to it in the first arc.

Granted, making a bunker on property one already owns is different from the whole Mel Tappan “countryside retreat” that one mysteriously has time to get to before “it” happens.

Another Theory For Boxing’s Decline

There have been many good explanations for the decline of boxing’s popularity in American popular culture. (I say in popular culture, as many big fights continue to draw big crowds and make big bucks). The usual and well-founded ones range along the lines of…

  • General sleaziness (which is not a new thing-an amusing example of this is how even by the 1960s, the sport’s reputation had shrunk to the point where new strips in the Joe Palooka comic didn’t actually show him boxing).
  • The division of the sport into many rival fiefdoms, from the “alphabet soup” sanctioning organizations to promotions and confusing weight divisions.
  • The sport being confined to niche premium television (it’s a chicken-egg question whether this was a mistake that walled off its customer base or a reasonable solution because its base and relationship with network television was declining anyway).
  • Competition from other sports, not just in terms of viewers but also in terms of what athletically talented people want to pursue. Just look at the career paths of Ken Norton Senior and Junior. This has also affected the other major American classic sport, baseball. Tom Brady was a talented baseball player in high school who was drafted by the Expos and Patrick Mahomes’ father was an MLB pitcher.
  • Because of the first three points and a fairly unique obsession with perfect records, an abundance of noncompetitive squashes, with actual quality fights hard to set up.

The last point leads into a new theory I saw floating around the internet-which is that the mass of lopsided fights leads to lopsided odds that are neither competitive nor fun. A big favorite gets the winner very little money (especially once one considers sportsbook limits) and big losses if their opponent does pull a Buster Douglas. A big underdog is highly unlikely to win.

This is an especially tough problem in a sport that has been closely tied to gambling for its entire existence. Boxing isn’t as fused to betting as, say, horse racing is (In my personal, albeit limited experience, the only people who care about non-Triple Crown races are gamblers), but I’d say it’s definitely more so than the other major sports. While I don’t think poor odds are the only reason it’s fallen out of favor, it certainly doesn’t help.

Weird Wargaming: The “Pharaonic” Division

One of the gems in the Micromark Army List order of battle sets is the “WW2.5” hypothetical set. In an alternate victorious Germany, it’s kind of a way to do a battle with all sorts of never-were prototypes and units from Allies and Axis. However, the organizational structure remains largely the same as historically-with one strange exception.

This is the “Pharaonic” Division, adopted by Egypt as part of returning to its ancient roots (yes, this is an excuse plot). And it’s interesting. At division level, it’s very conventional (three brigades, one armored and two infantry), and at brigade level mostly so (two “hosts”/subunits of either tanks or infantry).

However, the regimental (or “host“, as it’s called) level is extremely different. Like the infamous pentomic formations, it has five companies and skips the battalion level. Line platoons consist of five ten-man squads. Artillery battalions consist of five batteries of five guns each.

Tanks do not follow the rule-of-five and instead use a more conventional 4-3 model (4 tanks in a platoon/troop and 3 of those in a company/squadron). However, tank squadrons have an organic pentomic mechanized infantry troop. Although they’re not in the OOB document, I can see hypothetical independent armored formations intended for attachment to infantry units being organized in the “5 subunits” way to make attachment and organization easier. It’s worth nothing that the self-propelled guns used primarily for infantry support/defense are arranged this way.

The original pharaonic division was only covered in mechanized form, but its principles mean it can easily be adopted to other types of units. For instance, I can easily make a triangular pharaonic division with either three or six infantry hosts (depending on if you want a brigade level or not) and the usual support elements.