Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Sunday, 19 October 2008
Near Future Crises
Topic: Wargaming For Leaders
As the Presidential election comes to a close all eyes and minds are focused on the outcome. It is at times like these that my mind wanders into what happens next? Regardless of who wins there is an inevitable chaos that occurs after an 8 year Presidency. Most of the senior government officials who have shaped and implemented our national security policy move on and a new set of actors takes the stage. Although most of these new leaders will have impressive resumes that make them confirmable, the overall system will suffer from entropy that will require leadership and time to set right.
It is at this time that we are most vulnerable to foreign powers or groups trying and gain leverage in forwarding their agendas. Not all of these maneuvers are threatening to the US, but even those performed by our Allies can diminish our ability to forward our policies. What I will focus on are those situations that are designed to take advantage of the chaos and gain some long term advantage to our detriment.
A good historical model to examine is the Kennedy presidency. In the foreign policy arena Kennedy inherited a long term policy and a short term operation from the Eisenhower administration that tested his foreign policy acumen. The Bay of Pigs was an operation that was on the 'books' that moved toward implementation, regardless of who was in the White House. America's policy in Asia, specifically Vietnam was too low on the administrations agenda to get the level of attention and senior talent to alter its trajectory. Depending on which historical analysis you read the outcome of the Bay of Pigs had to a lesser or greater degree an impact on Soviet leadership thinking on how to advance their Cold War agenda. This led to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the high point of Kennedy foreign policy achievements.
I believe that the same factors that faced Kennedy are likely to face the next President. There are several wild cards out there that may have a major impact on the trajectory of the next four years. Trying to think through and anticipate some of these possibilities and sorting through reasonable responses is just prudent. Things that I think are possible, hence worth thinking through are:
1. A major Middle Eastern or SW Asian government falls. Prime candidates are Pakistan and Egypt.
2. Iran tests a nuclear weapon. Given that Iran is a 'observer nation' in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (PRC and Russia are the founding members) it is likely that this will happen at some point given Russian 'technical' assistance and cooperative efforts by this two powers to block UN counter proliferation initiatives. The question on the table will be, what can the next President do about a nuclear capable Iran? In the non-proliferation category we should not forget the DPRK (North Korea) who misbehave to wring out additional concessions, while never having yet kept any of their agreements.
3. Even if the US is able to implement the recently agreed to security agreement with Iraq, which posits most US forces withdrawing by 2011, there is always Afghanistan and Al Qaeda. How these two situations evolve is a situation that will have a major impact on the next Presidency.
Thinking about the future, especially when it already knocking at our door, is part and parcel to how the next four years goes.
Posted by markherman
at 10:05 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 19 October 2008 10:57 AM EDT
Friday, 10 October 2008
Topic: Wargaming For Leaders
I hope to begin a conversation on the application of wargames to emerging world class issues, such as National and Corporate survival. I will start by making a simple point, all decisions are based on a set of assumptions. Nothing revelatory about that, but it is this aspect of any decision that in the end determines whether it is a good or a bad one. A good decision is one whose underlying assumptions hold true even as the context under which that decision was made shifts and evolves. A bad decision is one where the shifts or the discontinuities that the decision is subjected to invalidate the underlying assumptions leading to unfortunate circumstances. Said another way, after every disaster the post mortem reveals someone messed up.
It would be hard to have this discussion without looking at the current Wall Street meltdown. From my perspective this situation failed due to two assumptions, both philosophical. The first was the Government’s assumption that the firms on Wall Street would act in their own self-interest and remain solvent even while taking on enormous portfolio risk. The second was the financial firms belief bordering on hubris that between their professional judgment and their computer models they could shift and weave their way through whatever troubled waters they might encounter.
When I think of the issue of computer models I would make the comment that all models are wrong, some are useful. All computer models are based on their creators’ assumptions as chiseled into computer code on the underlying truths that the simulation is portraying. All computer models are limited by the limits of its programmer. A computer model cannot calculate something its programmer could not anticipate or understand. To put an edge on this point, based on work that we have done, no one that we met in financial institutions believed that the value of real estate would go down. We were successful on several occasions in running wargames where we were able to create plausible scenarios for this to occur and sufficiently suspended the disbelief of the participants so they could grapple with the implications of this alteration of reality.
The current economic crisis makes this point. In an article in the New York Times, October 3, 2008, titled “Agency’s ’04 Rule Lets Banks Pile Up New Debt And Risk, “ Stephen Labaton wrote, “A lone voice of dissent in the 2004 proceedings came from a software consultant… who said the computer models run by the firms – which regulators would be relying on – could not anticipate moments of severe market turbulence.” Here is a case where someone, who like myself, has spent a career using computer models knows their inherent limitations. Although computer models are useful, they have their limitations. It has always been my practice to marry computer models with wargames as they are natural compliments to each other. One is a power tool that can crunch numbers until the cows come home, but knowing the correct context and circumstances that those numbers should be crunched under is the province of wargames.
I am happy to say that none of the Wall Street casualties were our clients, but we do not claim to be financial geniuses or Delphic seers. What we would claim is we are very good at forcing people to re-examine their assumptions, no matter how sacrosanct they may appear. More to follow…
Posted by markherman
at 7:58 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 10 October 2008 8:01 PM EDT
Topic: Wargaming For Leaders
I am opening a new topic regarding thoughts around my professional wargaming pursuits. I hope to post some thoughts on how wargames have been used to aid decision makers in navigating into the future. I hope to illuminate my thinking on how wargames have and could impact our troubled times.
Posted by markherman
at 7:51 PM EDT
Friday, 11 April 2008
Topic: Wargame Design Musings
Introduction: This discussion began over in the ATO folder, but to be fair to those nice gentlemen it was appropriate to move this somewhere else. This discussion was started by a question by David Dockter. The question on the table is many games when they come out often get tagged with having had insufficient playtesting. This was my reply to some of those views.
I am always amused by all the pundits when they wax elogquently on how to produce a really well developed game. At least one person, which soon grows into a chorus, cries that a game did not have enough playtesting, its broken, its ahistorical...etc. As they say in the military, amateurs talk about strategy and professional talk about logistics. Playtesting is a major logistic issue in the production of a game where no one gets paid, there is no reward except for a rules credit, and a free game (I always make sure my testers get a free game...oh boy).
I think characterizing the wargame community as a business is actually the wrong model. The real model is that it is a large Coop. Some folks design, some develop, many playtest, and the farms turn out the goods that people have pre-paid for with others stopping by the stand to pick up surplus produce. I believe that this is a better view of what the industry has become. Proof of this is that there are very few people who make a full time living in this business except at the production end along the lines of graphics, administration, fulfillment of orders, etc. with the rare freelance designer (aka Berg, Raicer) thrown into the mix. In effect what you pay for is only a fraction of the real production cost of the good as the biggest labor costs are done for free or very low pay (e.g., designer/developer). On EoTS I made less than $1 per hour, which is why I am keeping my day job.
When it comes to playtesting, how much is enough. All of my games get extensive playtesting. My last design had 12 teams who played the game around 100 times or so. I got a message from one team that they could not play that weekend because one of the testers house caught fire one night, he was hurt (but not permanently...thank god), and had to walk wounded through the snow a mile or so to a neighbors house to get to a hospital. Many playtesters have their personal lives intrude, but I thought this was the most novel reason for missing a weekend playtest. The footnote was priceless..."but luckily the playtest kit was undamaged, so we should be able to play next weekend." The playtesters worked out the kinks in the mechanics and find all of the obvious issues, gamey tricks etc. There are always a couple of things that remain undiscovered, particularly around balance, which for me on an historical simulation is not the overriding issue...historicity is.
So, what if we had played it another one hundred times...I'm sure we would have found more stuff...but not enough to justify the time and energy from the free labor. The reason that I say this is if one looks at the various ways of calculating 'confidence' in a simulation, which Operations Research types need to understand in my world, it would take, as an estimate several thousand playings before you would achieve a 10% confidence on whether a game had a bias. So 10 groups playing once per weekend (with a two week vacation) would generate 500 playthroughs a year (obviously unobtainable) and in 5-6 years would reach a 10% confidence on whether a game had a bias or not. To achieve a 50% confidence level would take longer than the years I have left in my life.
The way we achieve this in the professional community is we are using computer simulations and we can run them day and night for weeks to achieve the appropriate statistics. In our world, a CDG has much higher combinatorial complexity than most of those models and there is no easy quantitative way of factoriing in player skill. In essence, for all practical purposes, it is not possible.
What happens of course is when a game is released, more post publication playthroughs occur in one week than occured in the entire production cycle. Things crop up...questions get asked...people freak out...and the pundits wax eloquently on how they would have done it better.
This begs the question of what is playtesting for...in essence to wring out the major muscle movements of a design. Now if a design is part of a series, such as OCS, over time the design evolves to improve its mechanics and usually by the third iteration it stabilizes. A more traditional design has less moving combinatorial parts (no cards) so certain issues do not arise making the task a bit more manageable through the traditional processes, but even then I have never seen a design that I do not have questions about (all dimensions), but since I rarely play any game more than twice it is not an issue.
CDGs bring in another layer of probabilities that make determining outcome bias near impossible, so you play the game alot to eliminate system issues. What you want to get right is the mechanics and ensuring that you are driving the history into the design. In essence the game has to work well and be compelling to play. This is not to say that a product gets a by for incorrect set ups (my personal biggest heartburn), poorly proofread components, mistakes on charts etc. A CDG needs to meet the same high level of design and production excellence we all strive for. However, once the public gets a hold of a CDG or any game that gets played alot new unanticipated tactics will arise that may require tweaks to the balance. CDGs are very focused on head to head play vice solo play. Therefore balance has become a major critieria for CDGs due to tournament and internet play. The majority of the games on the market have never had their balance put through the intensity of the CDG experience, there are exceptions, but not many. Consequently it is very difficult to effectively validate a CDGs bias, let alone any game, from normal playtesting alone.
It should become clear that I do not view balance as a design issue, but something that has to evolve over time as people become more adept at playing a particular design, something not seen since the halcyon days of S&T. I have also found that many balance issues are ones of strategy and not mechanics, a debate that is ongoing in regard to my latest design. It appears that the Allies are having difficulties making amphibious invasions while the Japanese still have naval superiority. My answer is first get naval superority...some light bulbs are going on. All in all a very interesting set of dynamics.
Those are some of my thoughts...I'm sure many 'experts' will disagree, but after 40 designs and 30 years this is my current view.
Postscript: This note started an interesting yet controversial thread. I would note that the responses varied, so if those authors come over, I'm sure they will post their views again. I will note that Twilight Struggle a new system, with only 8 pages of rules, got years of playtesting including numerous conventions. If you take the current view in that folder, the Soviets are viewed, currently, as having a decisive advantage. Again, the nuances of the new system were basically known, numerous strategies were tested, but if you just take the conservative idea that each post represents 1 playthrough, that represents 3500 games that have revealed a new 'truth'. Was the playtesting insufficient, even after years of development? My personal view is it is a very well crafted professional design that is exciting and fun to play yet experiencing exactly what I wrote above. Others will disagree...I'm sure we will hear from them shortly.
Posted by markherman
at 1:57 AM EDT
Monday, 31 March 2008
Topic: For The People Material
That was a good post and worth an answer. There are many situations in the world which are not monotonic. Something happens in the ACW casualty statistics that is not a linear progression, but has a step function in it. It has something to do with the density of targets, but more defenders does not always equate to better results. This is why I did not go for a straight odds CRT, 2-1 at one size battle behaved differently than 2-1 in a medium battle. In fact this was an earlier controversy with the CRT, the results were insensitive to force ratios until they got near 3-1. Some thought that was highly incorrect and illogical, but the numbers are what they are.
Something that I have learned about designing games is some things are true, but not entirely explanable, and counter intuitive. I can either ignore it and let logic apply or I can actually be an historian and try to make sure it doesn't get left on the cutting room floor because it is inconvenient. So, you can sit back and go, that doesn't make any sense, but at the macro level some things are true even if they are counter intuitive, which is why they are called counter intuitive. All of my data comes directly out of a wealth of Operations Research papers that proliferated during the mid-60s, which were and remain the major sources for my ACW combat research.
1. Example #1: the Union attacks Richmond with 4 SP, the CSA defends with a fort and 1 SP. There is 0% chance of victory. Add a second CSA SP and the Union can win if they kill 2 CSA SP to 1 Union loss. Twice the defense = worse defense. The results of going from a small battle to a medium battle.
FTP has three basic defensive situations, unfortified, forts, and fortified lines (resource and capital spaces). So this example is a fort/ fortified lines situation. I should note that if there is no fort in Richmond then the Union can win a small battle, but this is a fort/fortified lines example which makes a difference. There were seventeen instances of assaults on fortified lines during the Civil War (based on Livermore's calculations). In all small battle equivalent situations on fortified lines there were no successes. At the medium battle level there were three successes. A great question is why? I have some theories, but it appears that less is more in this particular case, at least based on the historical record. The statistics are what they are... so in this example you do pick up a 1 in 18 (as close as I could get it) chance of winning a medium battle in a fortified line situation.
2. Example #2: The much discussed 1SP attack of a large force(5SP) or more. This force will always cause a 1SP loss and if can roll a 6 will cause 2 SP loss. Only risking 1SP. If you can get modifiers by leaders or defender OOS this can be lucartive killing 2 SP 50% of the time. But look at what happens if you are only attacking 4 SP. Suddenly you can only kill 1 SP 50% of the time with no chance to kill 2SP even with DRMs. Is this is not gamey, or unrealistic? A small force attacks a weaker force and has less than 50% chance of matching the results if they had attacked a larger force? News FLASH! : This is a game. Do we really want more rules?
Again this phenomena is again what it is...in very small battles and very large battles there is little variation in losses for both sides, in essence more or less equal. However, in medium density battles there is a slight bias whereby the defender lost a bit more than the attacker. I believe that this was based on a number of factors such as some magic density of targets to maneuver room relationships and historically it was due to the CSAs ability in the aggregate of being able to create local advantage even though they were outnumbered, but the Union had a few successes when they pulled this off. Again that is what the numbers show, so this is how I captured it. It should be noted that the probability of the 1SP in a small battle being eliminated is 84% vice 100% in a medium battle, so there is an attacker disadvantage when going from a small to a medium battle (without modifiers).
3, Example #3 The CSA has a dream team with an Army with DRMs of +9. If they make a medium attack against 15 Yankee SP they can not lose unless attacking a resource space. This would require them to attack with 4 SP. However if they attack with a stronger force say 5 SP they could lose if the Union can roll a 10. They would also lose their Army and 10 SW. All for making the attacking force stronger.
This situation is taking advantage of historical hindsight to some degree as I pointed out in the earlier example concerning the medium battle bias. However, in FTP terms this example has other costs that are not being evaluated. First off, the ability for the Union to roll a 10 prior to Grant with a 15 SP army is in itself very small. You need to have McClellan or Meade with Pleasanton in a fort, or Lee has to be OOS for this to occur. I would also note that leaving the leader casualty rules aside, the Union in a medium battle is very likely to give as good as it gets due to the lopsided nature of the force ratio giving the Union a +2, since its an army the lowest drm for the Union is probably a +2, giving the Union a 50% chance to kill 3 CSA SPs, which was my statistical point that the larger the fight the smaller the variability in losses. I should also note that the Union doesn't have to roll a 10 to eliminate a 5SP army in a large battle, so the bigger message is small armies may get the edge in one transaction (battle), but payback is hell (when the 10 SP army counterattacks against 1 or 2 surviving SPs).
There is no question that there are a few arbitrage situations where players can gain some benefit from the numberical relationships of a medium battle over either a small or large battle. However, that is the point, historically that bias was there. You cannot win a game working the seams of this historical bias, but as an historian I try to make the system as faithful to the reality as I can. Hence the way things are...as I said the CRT is not flawed unless my interpretation is flawed and I have looked at this in great detail, so it is what it is for a reason, not a mistake or something I had to fudge to make it work as a game.
Posted by markherman
at 4:38 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 31 March 2008 5:08 PM EDT
Sunday, 30 March 2008
FTP 'suicide' attacks and OOS
Topic: For The People Material
I was at a conference over the last couple of days, so I could not enter into this discussion in any detail as my fingers get tired on a blackberry.
One of the constants in our hobby is when something occurs in a game that doesn't feel right the first reaction is to declare such an occurance 'gamey' (my personal favorite), 'flawed', or 'broken' (without moving parts this is an interesting metaphor). I have no trouble with the expression of personal views, its why people do or do not play a particular title. Where I get cogniative dissonance around is the fact that the statement is made as an ascertain of fact without any facts.
I would like to take a moment to describe the 'suicide' one SP tactic in FTP in historical terms. Playtesting back in the 90's revealed the tactic, so I had to understand it in terms of the war or I would have added rules to eliminate it. In all wargames there is some atomic level unit or said another way every game has a smallest increment of strength below which the game cannot go. Technically this is the level of simulation granularity resident within the design. In FTP the smallest increment is actually the forts with zero SP (representing 2500 gunners), but practically it is one SP (about a division: 6000 men, although this number changed over the course of the war). An issue in any design is how to handle the collision of two atoms in a perverse version of simulation quantum mechanics. Most of these interactions are covered in 7.33 and 7.34, although the rule on General casualties also accomodates this notion.
I checked this once with Dr. John Hatcher (National Park Service Superintendent of the Gettysburg Battlefield) and he tells me that they have not discovered any reason to alter the official view on casualties for this battle. My point being is the factual data on battlefield statistics has not changed in a very long time. As I am working on a new ACW game at this time, I am deeply steeped in the statistics of the war and nothing has changed that would cause me to change the FTP CRT in any manner. If it is flawed it is my mathematical interpretation of the facts. Basically in the ACW both sides in almost every engagement lost about the same number of soldiers. There is variation and some notable exceptions (e.g., Fredericksburg), but this basic fact remains.
It is also true that units rarely fought to the last man, so the CRT is based around an SP being eliminated when losing around 40% of its strength, which is calculated into the CRT in synchronization with the reinforcement and attrition rules to get to a reasonable approximation at any point during a game of how many effective divisions you have on the map. All this was preamble to get to the issue of the how I view an allowed tactic of sequential assaults on a major campaign card.
There are several historical models for this, but I think the 1864 campaign (as noted in an earlier post) is a good instantiation of my point. Now one of the downsides of a manual simulation is simultaneous movement is difficult to portray especially with three activations unless you have three hands. Grant's constructed coordinated advances for numerous forces, but in the East he envisioned an advance in the Valley, from Fort Monroe, and the main force advancing directly on Richmond. The flanking forces were small 'armies', but this is what a major campaign is simulating. And historically each of these forces although advancing more or less in a coordinated fashion were dealt with sequentially by the South in three seperate actions that permanently halted the flank activity and led to a protracted series of flank movements that were successfullly blocked until the siege of Petersburg began. So from my perspective handling a major campaign card as three seperate actions makes reasonable historical sense.
Then there is the issue of being OOS. What does it really mean in this period? First off, 19th century armies are not 20th century armies. At the operational level warfare is non-linear and there is no POL requirement, or artillery shell needs, that ties armies rigidly to lines of communication. There are lines of communication to be certain, but they have a very different impact as the forces do not require regular delivery of supplies to function at full effectiveness (which is why I treat OOS as a positive for the attacker and not a negative for the defender). Again note the fact that Lee at Gettysburg has a LOC (so in FTP terms he is in supply), but there is no rail connection or supply columns moving toward him from some distant base to keep the AoNVa in the field. It should be noted that Richmond and Petersburg fell to the Union not because they were successfully assaulted, but their LOC was about to be cut due to Five Forks and Lee withdrew. That is how 19th century generals dealt with this situation. I would also note that the more aggressive generals in FTP were willing to forgo their LOC on occasion, hence their one rating, which occurred numerous times during the war. Many have commented on the fact that CSA raids, a staple of FTP tactics, would not have occurred because they would be out of supply. Of course the Vicksburg campaign and four CSA invasions of Union territory would seem to dispute this view.
In FTP when a force is OOS, although it is still portrayed as being in a space, in actuality (the spaces are very large areas) the army is dispersed, not necessarily concentrated. So the normal dynamic of a combat whereby both sides lose the same amount of casualties can be altered as the raiding SP in our case is running into a more dispersed force and it is conceivable in this circumstance that they will give more than they get. Again the one SP suicide force is not a bunch of Union soldiers arranged like kamikaze pilots, but a small raiding column that is attacking dispersed foraging columns and catches them in an unconcentrated manner. Once the raiding column loses around 40% of its strength, the column withdraws (in FTP it is removed from the map) to be reconstituted (achieved through the reinforcement process). If you look at the CRT for this interaction on the small battle CRT (the quantum side of a 1sp vs 1sp or such encounter), the losses are usually 1-1 with no losses and the attacker being repulsed. Again a low density fight.
However, in a medium battle, the 1sp force is running into a higher density of enemy forces and a more intense fight is inevitable with the attacking SP being eliminated in every case, although usually only taking an equal number with them. The reason you get a different dynamic is the attacking force is not afforded the luxury of pulling out and a cornered force is much more dangerous than one with a way out, so the defender losses are more substantial. The attacker can get lucky with a six, but overall the attacker without drms loses 5 out of 6 battles, demonstrating the defense dominated nature of ACW combat. As you add drms to the medium CRT you get an array of results based on the ability of one side to shape the battle a bit more (picking and using terrain in a superior manner or catching the defender dispersed in the OOS situation).
Anyway this is a long discussion to say that the use of a major campaign card to conduct sequential attacks on an enemy force to gain advantage is based on a real historical model and the results that occur from this action are supportable from the historical statistics. People do not have to agree with me as most internet conversations do not change minds too often, but I think ascertians need to be debated otherwise they become facts.
Posted by markherman
at 4:23 PM EDT
What makes a good ACW game?
Topic: For The People Material
I find Don's recent addition to the discussion to be outstanding and I hope he develops it into an article and gets c3i or ATO or whoever to publish it. If he wants I would be happy to host it on my website.
I would like to take a very different tack on what makes a good historical simulation. Don has picked up on the physics side very well, which is very amenable to calculations and data. I would like to say that all of that is necessary but whoefully insufficient.
Decisionsmakers, in this case Lincoln and Davis' and their constituents perception of their physical reality is the dominant variable. What is perceived to be true is in fact true, regardless of the facts until changed by those facts. The reason is that decisions are based on perceived reality not physical reality (the two notions can converge, but the perceived reality always wins). For example how I treated DCs vulnerability in FTP makes this point. Lincoln thought it was vulnerable, but if the game system, as calculated by how the simulation treats the DC defenses, says that it is not vulnerable (and in retrospect it wasn't that vulnerable) then the players are given the luxury of ignoring a key historical cogniative variable. As the Eastern campaign was dominanated by this perception how can leaving it out make for a better historical simulation?
Going to Taylor's point about friction. FTP deals with the activation of leaders using a friction model. Each leader's initiative can be thought of as an amount of standing friction that must be overcome to begin movement. The three rated leaders are harder to move than the one rated leaders because the card deck is not entirely composed of three OC cards. That relationship as represented by card probability and leader rating is a statement of standing friction.
What the leader rating represents is how willing the leader in question was in taking risk, particularly as regards to their logistic preparation. The same real world physics pertained to a McClellan as it did to a Grant. What I mean by that is the needs of a Western soldier were not different than an Eastern soldier, a horse eats what a horse eats etc. (I am a huge fan of Van Creveld's book, even met and talked with him once). However, Grant's perception of what was possible (ability to forage in the deep South) was very different than McClellan's view. A strictly physical simulation, which account for all of the ones used in the DoD (with the exception of mine, search for Entropy Based Warfare) make no allowance for cogniative differences.
The question I would ask how good can a simulation be if it ignores cogniative factors such as the ones I mention (e.g., DC)?
PS: I broadly agree with Dockter on his point about the enduring value of personality in modern times, but I would note that the rise of the general staff system (just beginning in the ACW period) tends to mitigate the impact of one person on a very large organization. I would say that the impact of a modern leader on an organization is he sets the tone (how aggressive, how spit and polish) which in the aggregate does impact performance, but less so than a Lee sitting on Traveler during a battle. A political struggle due to its very nature, such as Dockter's excellent Triumph of Chaos, tends to elevate the importance of personal leadership as these personages ability to instill purpose into an ideological struggle is critical to its outcome. Witness the current struggle between America and Fundamentalism, its hard to say that icons do not matter in the 21st century.
Posted by markherman
at 4:22 PM EDT
Sunday, 3 February 2008
GBOH Tactical System as posted on CSW
Topic: Wargame Design Musings
Where did you look? It has a large number of fans which is not the same thing.
So, is the point that fans do not know what "good" is and only know what they like. Interesting perspective...
Indeed, a classic war between populares and optimates (or so they like to believe).
Are these mutually exclusive sets or do they intersect?
There is a school of thought that the whole Impulse, Trumping, Momentum mechanic is a gamey mechanic that has nothing to do with the reality of what happened on the ground
I have always been amused by the 'gamey' criticism as all rules are 'gamey' by definition, but I understand what is meant. I'll be the first to admit that any game system is not perfect. I also know that a good game has to take a focus. A literal interpretation of the GBOH command system was never intended. In fact the system would work for any tactical system as what it is trying to portray is a deep abstraction and independent of era.
What was in my mind was to create an interactive sequence of play that acted as an extension of the player, through his leaders, to seize and dominate the timing of a battle. In the abstract the two players are trying to time their blows in such a manner as to win the battle. This historical perspective that I am taking in this system is there is a cognitive battle going on as to when you maneuver your various force elements. The superior general controls the tempo of the battle to his advantage. Taking the system literally misses the entire point.
The reason that you go from lowest to highest leader is it forces the poorer led force to show their tactical plan first and give the better leaders the ability to move in relation to their opponents plan whenever they see the time is ripe to do so. The superior generals, ala Alexander, can basically move whenever they want (first, second, last whenever). It allows a player to create complicated sequences of moves where the superior led force tends to gain the tempo and initiative advantage. Of course the dice love no one and there is always a small element of surprise (captures a host of friction of war types of events) that can waylay even the best plans.
As far as the momentum concept goes. How active an element is when it does get going? How well does the leader keep his forces under control? How a player answers these questions through his actions (as represented by dice versus leader capability) deterimines the extent of how effective a given maneuver can be. So a Companion cavalry charge under Alexander can sweep all before it, whereas a lesser light will have difficulties maintaining control and alignment forcing a slower pace and effect of a move. I have seen the criticism that forces once set in motion did not stop etc. However, I designed the entire GBOH system around the idea of relative motion. A force that misses a move is not actually stopped, but its relative motion to the other elements around it is much slower. It is an example of how one can treat time-space relationships in a design without a lot of rules. If one sees the world through a literal lens this is very unsatisfying and there is no way to convince someone with that view otherwise. But the idea that I designed this system to represent what the crtiques state it represents is just incorrect.
The line commands allow the system to give an army some basic capabilities relative to their doctrine, e.g., Roman, whereby any political hack can make a Legion do some basic stuff, but if the battle gets away from them, they have a limited set of options to react.
As I said, no game system is perfect. The GBOH command system is an abstract concept and by definition "gamey" as it is a game that in the aggregate captures the choreography of an ancient battle. It gives advantage to the side with the historically better leaders, but with the opportunity for the player to demonstrate superior gaming skills.
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to throw down some thoughts on what I was trying to do when I designed it this way. I'm sure there are much better Igo-Hugo systems or impulse systems that capture some of these elements in a more palatable manner for some. The notion that popular equates to low brow is a concept that I cannot support, I will leave it to others to make their case on why so many people for over 15 years can be so wrong.
PS: It would be nice if we can agree up front that neither side will persuade the other that they are right and avoid the part of these discussions where it has to get personal before the discussion can end. I like to think that honest men can disagree.
Posted by markherman
at 1:17 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 3 February 2008 1:18 AM EST
Tuesday, 29 January 2008
Strategic Level Games
Topic: Empire of the Sun
Strategic level games...
As demonstrated by my game last night with Jim A., this is the game that I play more than any other. I find that the games plays reasonably well as a solo game, which is how I play it most of the time.
A one map game that covers a large portion of the globe is usually considered a strategic level game. I would say that most one map Pacific games that I have played are really operational level games using a large map scale. This is not a criticism, but a common feature derived from having played practically every title in this category ever published. I have enjoyed most of them and still play some of them on a regular basis.
The one common feature of them was their incorporation of carrier/ naval battle tactical features into the design. One of the myths of our hobby is the Pacific War was dominated by the carrier battle, so this makes sense. The problem is there were only 6 carrier battles during the war (Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, Guadalcanal, Santa Cruz, Philippine Sea). Carriers were the critical element in projecting offensive naval power, but it was land based air that drove strategic decisions during the war.
As Andy B. correctly summarized, at the strategic level, the key constraints are logistics (cards) and how to advance ones air power to achieve strategic objectives. The terms 'battle' actually represents a series of engagements in most cases culminating in an amphibious assault or a ground advance that enables ones air power to displace forward.
The perspective that I was trying to build into the design was the theater commander getting broad guidance from the Joint Chiefs authorizing certain levels of activity. The player has to succeed within the context of that guidance and associated logistic support that the authorized level of activity comes with. At one level, you are in control of where you go next, but within a resource/ guidance constrained environment.
Just some thoughts on a Friday night,
Posted by markherman
at 7:37 PM EST
Topic: Empire of the Sun
Its a long way to Tip a Wari...
Okay, convince me how what we are seeing is not an indictment of the realism of this game? Historically Japan did not possess anything like the logistical capacity to invade Australia. This is just as bad as Bulge games where the Germans always run wild in the north.
I am not trying to convince you of anything, but here is what I was thinking when I allowed for this specific option in the design. There are three points here, the current game situation, history and the design.
In this game Darwin is a bit undermanned as the location starts the game with a Corps not a reduced Brigade. So, the risk was taken and accepted by the Japanese.
Historically, the Japanese were not capable of taking all of Australia, which is reflected in the rules that Australian units do not leave play if the Northern coast of the country is captured. On the other hand, the Japanese did contemplate neutralizing Australia by conquering the Northern portion of the country (the part of Australia on the map). The Japanese did put a serious effort into capturing Moresby (e.g., Coral Sea and Kokoda Trail offensive) as they wanted to isolate Australia from US aid, which was the impetus for their plans in this area. Darwin in particular was vulnerable to Japanese attack and was on a couple of occasions subjected to Japanese air strikes. The Japanese Kido Butai operated in the area in the early part of the war giving them naval superiority, so it was only a matter of will not opportunity that they didn't invade Darwin.
From a design perspective this is another path not taken, although what might have happened if Port Moresby had fallen early in the war is anyone's guess. As the Japanese did seriously look at the option I put it in the game. I did make sure that this was not a free lunch. By displacing an HQ forward the Japanese with some effort (a card or two) can extend their logistic network to enable a serious offensive toward Australia or Hawaii. On the other hand this kind of HQ (logistic) re-orientation both precludes the other option and creates weaknesses in other portions of the Japanese position.
My critieria for including something like this in a design is was it possible? Was it contemplated by one side and feared by the other. My view on all three is yes and why it is in EoTS.
Posted by markherman
at 7:33 PM EST
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