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Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Sunday, 11 April 2010
How to simulate intelligence failure in an historical wargame
Topic: Empire of the Sun

One of the healthy debates that continues in the wargaming community is what does or does not make a particular game an historical simulation. A challenge that a designer faces is the uneven knowledge across the community on what is factual information or myth based on earlier game designs. A case in point is a key Empire of the Sun sub-system whereby intelligence about enemy dispositions is determined.


It should be obvious that if two players are sitting at the same map and moving their pieces that both sides have an extraordinarily clear picture of where the enemy forces are located. Many designs try to handle the 'fog of war' in many ways, but in the end the visual clues of counters, whether real or 'dummy' counters, does indicate where enemy forces are located, but even more importantly where they are not located.


As I have predominantly worked in manual games you need to work within your medium. It is an inescapable fact that the pieces on the board have to be somewhere that is visible to both players without creating some elaborate double blind system that tends to bog down play with its resultant feeling of tedium. I look at this issue not as a problem but a feature of manual games and I work with it as a strength if properly incorporated into a design. 


When I designed Empire of the Sun I wanted to simulate the 'fog of war' in a very different manner. I went for what I will call the 'empty' map where you see forces, but their location is intended to be imprecise. I see the piece locations as an abstract electron cloud where the precise location of the electrons is only known when you closely observe them at a particular instance.


What this means in practical play is once the location of the offensive forces move to an objective fixing their relative location to an objective, the opposing or reaction player then determines where his forces are located for that series of battles initiated by the offensive player. Within this concept resides the ability to have ground forces at the objective despite the fact that the offensive player thought it was undefended or less defended than it appeared when the offensive began.


The reason that this is important to a Pacific War design, although it would reasonably apply to any campaign in history, is the historical accounts are replete with examples that the Allies were usually incorrect as to the size and composition of Island defenses. This inability to understand the true nature of the Japanese defenses was an important historical feature of the conflict and one that is simulated in Empire of the Sun. Here is a link to a primary source document that demonstrates my point.


If you get a chance to look this document over note this little gem buried in the text. 


Pg 74-4: "The enemy ground strength was considerably in excess of what was expected, sizeable reenforcements having arrived in the Marianas just prior to our attack." 


This is EXACTLY what is being simulated when you make a reaction amphibious move with the Japanese in response to an Allied offensive. The reality being simulated is the Japanese ground unit was already on the Allied objective before it began.


However, mechanically this is hard to do with physical pieces on a board if you execute the historical actions in a time linear manner. What I did in Empire of the Sun is the Allied player in this example is forced to launch his offensive with uncertain knowledge. The Allies are aware of what the potential Japanese dispositions may be at the time of the offensive, but needs to apply a risk profile for the attack and plan accordingly. This is what the real commanders faced during the war. Depending on player style you tend to either accept a great deal of risk or send more than you will need, which is exactly the debate that repeated itself throughout the war.


The mechanic in the game reverses the actual sequence of events to hide the Japanese intentions until the Allies are committed to their attack. It is at this time that through the reaction mechanic the Allied player finds out what was really at the objective all of the time, but without the Japanese player having to go through an elaborate paper driven planning process. Let's face it, lots of paperwork is not fun in real life or in a wargame. The net effect of the mechanic is player behavior and thinking begins to approximate what occurred during the war. 


<sarcastic mode on> Although as many of the 'experts' on the various boards tell me Empire of the Sun is not a very good historical simulation because of subsystems like this as it is too 'gamey'. So, please note, this historical primary source quote, not their opinion, must be wrong.</sarcastic mode off> 


Excuse my sarcasm, but this goes directly to my earlier comment that while we have a solid tradition of debate in the wargaming community many voices in the debate know far less than they really know. But that is the nature of a democracy, so you take the good with the bad.



Posted by markherman at 8:26 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 11 April 2010 8:43 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 27 April 2010 - 3:56 PM EDT

Name: "Jorge Iglesias"

Good to see that you are regularly feeding this blog again.

I totally agree with your view on FoW and why consims should attempt not only to recreate it but also make it play the central role that historically did.

However, it seems as the EotS reaction mechanic that you mention gives a significant and unhistorical advantage to the defender, as he can see in advance the quantity and quality of the forces used by the attacker and then decide with hindsight how strong (or weak) his defence is going to be in each combat.

Am I missing something?

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