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Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Sunday, 30 March 2008
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
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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
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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
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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.

Enjoy, Mark

Posted by markherman at 7:33 PM EST
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Pacific OOBs
Topic: Empire of the Sun
Some thoughts on OOB...

Consider this a random set of designer thoughts. I have seen a number of posts on numerous CSW and BGG posts concerning players perceptions of what an accurate game OB is or is not. My conclusion is that the common view is an historical detailed OB for a Pacific Wargame, although this thought process seems to cut across subject considerations, contains a minimum of a division OB, some special units, and all of the Capital ships. Based on this critieria EoTS is considered to have an ok historical OB, but lacks detail.

I would like to challenge this view. I would also state that an OB should be appropriate to how the units were used and the scale of the wargame. So, here is how I see it (it goes without saying that I have a parochial view on this, but who doesn't). Every ground formation at the Corps or Army level is included and carries the correct historical designation. All divisions that fought in the conflict are included within this structure that I feel is appropriate for a strategic game. I chose to show individual Marine units at the division level for the US and lower level for the Japanese as they were used in this manner. Plus, one of my design preferences is to show some of my favorite elite units (e.g., Chindits, Flying Tigers) as it adds to my view of the fun factor.

Every naval unit, including every DD, CL etc., is accounted for within the Naval TF groupings that I organized the naval forces around. I chose to show a couple of special naval units, such as the Tokyo Express surface unit (APD) and such as they operated independently for a significant portion of the war.

From my reading and analysis the Pacific war was dominated by land based airpower, so it is curious that this area of OB is usually not discussed. The one area that EoTS has chosen to include in the design with the same level of detail as the land and naval components is the air OB. EoTS does not use air SPs, but has each and every air formation included in the game at the Air Force, Air Flotilla, Air Division, level of detail. Where these air formations (not SPs) were located were a major strategic consideration during the war. I guess this is not an important component of an accurate Pacific War OB as I am not aware of too many other Pacific wargames that include this level of detail. To take a shot at myself, my Pacific War game suffers from the same issue, something I learned from and corrected in EoTS and will rectify in a future reprint of PacWar. I find it interesting that leaving this element out of a wargame's OB still allows the design to claim it has a more historical OB than another design. What I am not saying is that EoTS has the most complete anything, to include OB, but when others post their views and leave out the air element, I just find the logic curious...

I just wanted to get my view of what an historical OB should contain from my perspective.


Posted by markherman at 7:32 PM EST
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Empire of the Sun
Topic: Empire of the Sun
A collection of Herman Posts from CSW on EoTS.

Posted by markherman at 7:30 PM EST
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Sunday, 27 January 2008
Sit Down, Play the Game, Stop Screwing Around...
Topic: Wargame Design Musings

One of the things that I have learned about game design is that you cannot leave an open ended mechanic without a finite end. The impetus for the thought is that some players seem only interested in ignoring the fact that they are playing an historical game and spend undue effort trying to find ways to distort the rules and frustrate their opponent. To what purpose is beyond me.

 A good example of what I am talking about is in my old Pacific War design where I put in a mechanic for penalty time, so players could recover forces when they had made slight miscalculations in logistic planning. I tried to ensure that this couldn't be used to ones advantage by removing the offensive players ability to conduct combat in penalty time. This way if the player messed around, the reaction player could launch a short range attack and start killing things until the pain of losses forced the player to shut things down.

 In works not only in theory, but in practice as I was once able to make an opponent (someone I did not know well at a convention) cry uncle when they tried to get cute with this tactic. What I would like to write is a rule that is called, sit down, play the game, and stop screwing around. As this is not enforceable, I have learned the lesson that all mechanics must have a enforced end even if there is a viable way around it, such as my solution in Pacific War. The reason being when there is no limit, its clear abuse frustrates most players spoiling a good time.


Posted by markherman at 10:37 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 27 January 2008 10:48 PM EST
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Welcome News
Topic: Wargame Design Musings

 As I never received any physical keepsake this is the only record of the award, posted so I wouldn't forget.


Walter Luc Haas-Award

The Walter Luc Haas-Award, given by the GHS members in Germany to the best board wargame of 2005, was won by 2 games this time:



Empire of the Sun

Congratulations to the designers and to GMT!


Posted by markherman at 7:41 PM EST
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Card Driven Game Thoughts
Topic: Wargame Design Musings

What Was I Trying To Simulate?

There are many things that can be simulated in a game and no game that I am aware of handles all of the details of conflict at the same level of detail in a user entertaining manner. A good simulation is one that picks out the key variables with easy to implement systems that let the player(s) manipulate them within an historical context. Additionally, the historical outcome and decisions should in some manner be within the set of game outcomes. In the end all simulations are wrong, but some are useful and hopefully entertaining.

But first a story, way back in the late seventies when I was designing what became RDF I got a chance to play the game with Jim Dunnigan. At the conclusion of the game Jim said it was interesting, but it felt it played like panzer chess. The comment referred to the fact that each maneuver he made was matched by a similar maneuver on my part resulting in two armored firing lines. I redesigned the game, but the point of the story is most games allow for near perfect information with lots of detail on a variety of force and spatial factors ala chess.

My continuing study of warfare both for game design purposes and professionally have convinced me that real combat is chaos because senior decision makers lack perfect knowledge. This has been the case for all wars including recent ones where people got killed because the real information was absent or not believed. The more successful commanders were those who were able to succeed in this constant environment of imperfect information. Consequently I have come to the view that the most important variable to simulate in a wargame is uncertainty.

I have tackled this problem in a variety of systems. In Pacific War I used hidden die rolls that integrated uncertainty as to the enemy reaction based on the intelligence condition. My most successful system has been my card driven design as embodied in We The People and For The People and copied by POG, 30YW, WW to name a few. What the cards accomplish is to create enourmous uncertainty about what the enemy can accomplish and how one's decisions might be impacted by the range of enemy reactions. By incorporating this imperfect information overlay into the more traditional force, space, and time factors interesting things happen. In addtion the cards allowed me to bring a range of soft factors (e.g., politics) into the simulation, which has ever been the original purpose of most wars. More importantly it appears that the entertainment value and replayability of the games have also been enhanced.

What is a good simulation of conflict? Is it one that develops systems for tactical trees, but misses the strategic forest. I submit that my card driven system is my attempt to simulate decision maker uncertainty in an imperfect information environment. From where I stand a game that ignores this set of variables has a harder time proving its simulation bona fides. This last point is definately a minority view in our hobby.

It is interesting that there is a perception that there is a flood of WTP/FTP derivative wargames out there, but there are less than 10 by my last count in ten years. During this same period of time there have been at least several hundred traditional wargames published. I am hard pressed to understand how this niche set of games is causing such a furor.

Just one man's view,


Posted by markherman at 7:40 PM EST
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Fortune of War
Topic: For The People Material

Change of Fortune

Dan, The idea for this mechanic comes out of Clausewitz and a graph in an Archer Jones book. The point of the mechanic is to show the added effect that occurs when a sides fortune rises and falls over time.

To understand the strategies behind this mechanic you need to graph the relative SW over the course of a game. What you will see is a sawtooth type of activity, like a stock market graph, where there will be general trend over time in an upward or downward vector as a general expression of how one side is performing over time.

What is being simulated is you as the player are the President (Lincoln or Davis) and one of the political levers you have at your disposal is the ability to time events. So, if you know that you need to do something unpleasant politically or if something unpleasant happens involuntarily, you have the ability to manipulate public opinion by having some 'good' news in your back pocket to reduce the impact of 'bad' news on the electorate. If you have paid any attention to the current presidential campaign you will see multiple examples of this on an almost weekly basis, witness the recent release of the jobs report and how both sides reacted to it.

The strategies associated with this mechanic are to time political or military events to occur in a sequence that maximizes their effect on the electorate (SW). The basic strategies depend on whether the marker is on the negative or positive side. When you are in a negative condition, you want to arrange your affairs so that you take bad news before good news. So for instance if you were the Union and you wanted to fire your Army commander and conduct an amphibious invasion to capture a CSA coastal fort, it would be best to fire the general and then capture the fort. From a Civil War perspective just as Lincoln's opponents are attacking him for 'firing' their guy, positive military news comes out that dampens its impact (overall +2 SW for good timing: no additional effect for bad and +2 for change of fortune). However, if you were to do it in the opposite sequence you would whipsaw public opinion and feel it in the polls (-1 SW for bad timing: +2 for change of fortune then a -3 for the rapid change in the other direction).

When your marker is on the positive side you have to be circumspect about voluntarily doing something that will cause a change in public opinion. A common one in the game is the circumstances by which Davis forms the AoNVa. If you form the army under anyone but ASJ, you will take a political penalty due to the turmoil that ASJ proponents will cause you for passing over their favored son. However, this may be a military necessity and if you were holding an SW event card you might want to first build the AoNVa and then deliver the good news (-1 SW). If you did it in the opposite sequence you would suffer for bad political timing (-3 SW).

Over the course of the game, failure to pay attention to change of fortune could cost you 10 or more SW points. When the South wins the long game (gt 13 victory), they usually have less than this many SW remaining, so failure to handle change of fortune could be the margin of defeat. In a close game Lincoln could lose an election by this many points.

As the old saying goes, "timing is everything."


Posted by markherman at 7:39 PM EST
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