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Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Wednesday, 31 March 2010
Dialog on my views of Game Reviewers and Ratings
Topic: Wargame Design Musings
bentlarsen wrote:
MarkHerman wrote:
Thanks for posting your views over on the Washington's War folder. Based on your comments I did re-read Chris Farrell's comments again and I am not sure why you think that this is a better review than the more positive ones other than it is more negative.

Chris is a smart fellow who is very impressed with his own opinion. I read all comments about my games, so I have a view of what does and does not make a good review. A good review sets metrics for how the game will be judged, otherwise it is just opinion with no objective standard. One of the reviews that you did not like did a very good job in this regard. 

Chris fails as a reviewer as he has very distinct tastes, which is fine for a gamer, but a major problem for a reviewer. He makes ascertains without any supporting thoughts and thinks he is stating facts. He has reviewed all of my recent games and he has disliked all of them. No problem, but all I can conclude from his reviews is he has not played any of my designs all that much, so his comments on design features and their impact on game strategy are misguided at best. As a consequence he offers a professional game designer and the reader nothing much beyond his personal tastes in games.

He starts off by saying in the review that you wanted me to re-read that he did not like We The People all that much, then points out several factors that he thinks make Washington's War a worse game (discard mechanism and OPs Queue) and then later contradicts himself by saying that the activation system does not work because the British need 3OPS cards, which is the point of the OPS Queue. It is my belief that he imagines how the game should play out vice actually figuring it out through play. The discard mechanism is generating a lot of positive comment, so people like it. Chris does not like it, but as usual without much explanation other than it makes the game more complicated. Complexity is in the eye of the beholder not some objective standard of goodness. 

Frankly I have read all of Chris's reviews and all that comes through is he seems to know how to design a better version of the game he is playing. That's fine, but upon reading his remarks it is clear that he really hasn't played Washington's War many times as his comments about the worthless American generals demonstrates to me that he does not understand how to play the Americans well. This point was true in We The People, but the new attrition rules require the Americans to play very differently, so it is my belief given how quickly his review came out that he read the rules and applied his thinking to what he remembers from We The People. I was told at a recent convention from serious players that Chris does not know what he is talking about on this specific point. Again this demonstrates to me that he is just doing a drive by review with little thought or time invested.

It is my understanding that the basis of the BGG game rating was tied to a player's willingness to play it again. From what I can tell on BGG and over on CSW, the players that are rating the game very highly are playing it constantly, which may be the basis for their high ratings vice some philosophical design standard. In the end if a game grabs someones fancy, and most of my designs do not generate this level of enthusiasm, then it is what it is.

I decided to write you privately as I find that open forums are not useful for real communications, but I do take all comments seriously and I wanted you to know that I took your advice.

Take care,


Thank you again for reading my comment and writing to me.

Before I get to your response, I do not want you to take any criticisms of your designs as criticisms of you, Mark Herman. Your games must be like your family, so I imagine it might be tough. Second, you are the "guy" who started it all with these Card-driven wargames. You are the inovator. We the People might not be a game I like, but your original concept and design has led to many games that I do like. Third, I would rank you among the very best designers. I never try to rate a list like that from best on down; it is just too difficult.

If you reread my comments, what I hoped you could influence in the BGG community are those individuals who helped develop or play-test the game, and who are rating it highly. I think it is not ethical for these individuals (there are two for sure, are there more?) to have ratings, not that anyone is going to go to hell for loving or hating a game. I think they are entitled to comment, but they should leave off the numbers. This issue is a frequent flyer on BGG. You are not responsible for what they do or say. If you see my concern, maybe you could give them a nudge. If they do not budge, that is not your fault. 

"Sycophant" is a strong term, a fighting word, as Yosimite Sam would say. I haven't read any hate mail about it, so I guess that no one has seen my comment because it does not have a number rating. Either that, or these people do not know what it means.

None of these tens qualify as a review in my understanding of the term. None of the reviews under the review forum qualify as a real discussion of the strengths and weaknesses--no game is perfect, not any on my top ten list, that's for sure--a your design. The geeks leaving tens come across as people kissing up. You have earned your place among the best of the best (and I am not kissing up, just stating a fact), and your behind does not need any lips on it (the image makes me go "ewww!"). 

Most of the reviews I have read for wargames are an embarrassment to anyone who wants to have a serious discussion. These kinds of comments should just go under the "genera" forum so that everyone gets to exercise his or her freedom of speech. I know this is a social networking site for gamers, but if I am going to write a serious piece by way of review, I want to sweat before I write it. I have written at least six reviews for Paper Wars, not that anyone would know it because there has not been an issued published during the past two years or so. I have typed out 35 pages or more. When I gripe about this on the geek, I am looked down as an eliteist. I just want an intelligent discussion.

How many times have you see the mob mentality at work on BGG? You go with the flow or you get dumped on. The first serious (it likely won't be, it will just be a rant) negative review of your new WW will bring out the wolves in force to tear the nay-sayer apart.

Now, turning to Chris Farrell. He is an odd duck (so am I, for that matter). He has tremendous influence (anyone with tremendous influence has too much power) on the BGG community. It would seem he has earned his position with comments that I find sober and serious and free of the nastiness that I sometimes--sometimes?--leave when I am on a roll of one sort or another. It is sad, but I find I have to "yell" to be noticed around this place, that is when I want to be noticed. 

The comments that Chris left with his six rating do not qualify as a review (nor, as I said above, do any of the tens or other ratings, for that matter). But Chris says it without rancour. 

Take another look at what I said about his comments and the six:

Is anyone taking Chris Farrell's comments, and his six, seriously? Chris can be wrong (just look at his comments on Pursuit of Glory and compare them with the actual game). Chris has good gaming instincts, if you choose to ignore the time factor (everything is too long for him) and chrome (everything is too detailed). Other than these, he is usually okay. 

Mark, do you see there is a fair bit of agreement between you and I concerning Chris. One, he can be wrong. The five rating he gave for Pursuit of Glory, with his brief comments, is a joke. How do I know this? Look at my review that I wrote after playing the game for at least a full week. Two, I note how everthing is too long or too detailed for his taste. I use hyperbole, but I am well aware that Chris has, or seems to have, a strict set of guidelines for every game, and woe be to the game that falls out of him. For me, as an example, I can find Paths of Glory a blast to play, lots of fun, but do not confuse it with an historical wargame. Raicer has a great design with history pasted all over it, but that's all it is: paste. I prefer a game to be both good history and good game, but I can like it if it is only one or the other.

I want Chris' six, his sober, non-insulting tone, and his comments to put a brake on the lips of the sycophant chorus. He would need to move his comments into the review section. Given what passes for reviews, he would have no problem being accepted. Then the community might enter into a serious discussion of your game.

When I wanted to discuss ACW leadership ratings in games like For the People and others, I did a pretty botched job of trying to express my points. I think Chris, with his comparision to how the generals are rated in Hannibal, made a valid point that perhaps you could consider for a variant for the GMT magazine (the name escapes me).

Mark, I understand if I cross historical swords with you that I am likely to be on the losing end, but I think you have rated the American generals to highly in their combat capabilities. How many major battles did the British lose during the Revolution? Three at best? Howe bested Washington at New York and during the Philadelphia campaign, but you only have one point of difference between them. Washington is a great leader, but competant only, at best, general. 

To go back to For the People, I think you are of the traditional school that sees Grant, Lee, Sherman and Jackson as being on an equal plane of skill, and I feel this view has been overturned in the past ten years (if not before). For FtP, it would be nice to see a Hannibal aspect to the generals in these games. Grant is better on strategy that Lee. Lee is the tactician bar none. Jackson is at his best in a subordinate role. Sherman is a lousy tactician--he was at least honest enough to admit that he was not the best--but you have him equal with the others. Argh! 

But I digress.

In fairness, I do not know how any designer, even one as experienced and wise as you, can do full justice to the complexities of the the American Revolution. 

I hope you will consider me part of the loyal opposition, and I want to stress the loyal part. I have WW on order through the p-500, but Canada seems to be on the other side of the globe for all the time I have been waiting for its arrival. I want to get your Pacific War game, and I have heard that you and Richard Berg are working on a monster ACW game. Is this true? You can be sure that I will buy a copy. I want to help put food in your table, even while I preach to you how you have some--only some--things wrong. 

Invite me to your house for a week, or come to mine, teach me the basics of wargame design, and you won't have me as an armchair critic. Or hopefully even a critic.

I do wish you the best. If time allows, I will try to review WW, but I have to master the rules to Berg's Dead of Winter for a Paper Wars review--do you have an "easy guide" to these GBACW games?

Let me know how you feel about what I have said. 

Take care, and I hope you continue to do well with WW and with all your other designs.


Thanks for your thoughtful remarks. You bring up many points so I will focus on a couple. First off thank you for your warm remarks about my overall body of work, I appreciate the sentiments.

To your game review remarks I also read Chris's comments on Pursuit of Glory and based on my single play I mostly agreed with him. On the other hand I only played the game one time and I think that is all Chris may have played it. As a professional designer I feel that I can ethically support a game that I actually play and enjoy, but I will not criticize a design as it would be perceived as a conflict of interest. As far as the playtesters rating the game on BGG goes I do not see this an unethical or a conflict of interest, because they gain nothing by doing so. The review that I liked from the guy who was Sean or Paul, I forget, was a playtester and gave it a nine instead of a ten because I did not take one of his suggestions. So it is not clear that the playtesters are always a home field crowd. 

You state that Chris writes without rancor. That is in the eye of the beholder, but lets for argument state that I agree. That is not my issue with Chris' reviews. Why people think he deserves his reputation is not for me to say, but what he says is never supported or measured against any objective standard. So, for me all I am getting is Chris' opinion, his right, and based on the sameness of his reviews I find that they have little value for me as a professional designer. 

For example he has panned my EoTS game not once but twice. He does not like the War in Europe mechanic and states that it has driven every game that he has played. As background, I am a professional OPS Research analyst and I have taught Analytics (probability and statistics) at the graduate school level for Georgetown University. So, I am very strong in probability mathematics. When I built the decks of cards I ran them through a simulation and this was validated by independent gamers who have posted the spreadsheets that are available on CSW for all to see. So what he claims is not mathematically possible or he does not know how to shuffle a deck of cards. Based on this his remarks carry no weight with me as they cannot be substantiated in mathematical reality.

In the same review he makes a comment about how unrealistic in EoTS it is for a fleet to be pinned by a bomber. I wrote a monograph on this specific point with all of my research that is posted on my website. It seems to me that unless a reviewer is willing to wade into the historical detail that he is commenting on how seriously can I take said review. On a review he did for my For The People game he made a similar offhand remark about the CRT and how it was ridiculous or some such. Yet, I built that table out of actual data and every battle of the war can be reflected through that table. As I said Chris does not do his homework, just levies his opinion. For me that makes him no better than any other opinion on BGG or CSW.

I could go on but you get the point. Later in your letter you make note of the general ratings in Washington's War and then I remembered our earlier exchange and your thoughts on the For The People general ratings. If done well and I think I know what I am doing, a design is an intrinsic whole. If you take out one piece and evaluate it alone without the remainder of the design you can draw incorrect conclusions.

I agree with your analysis that the British won most of the battles they fought in the war. Actually, if you find my old General article on We The People what you really find is the attacker won the majority of the battles during the AmRev. This by the way is characteristic of most low density battles in musket and rifled musket period (AmRev and ACW). 

Your point is that Howe is only one point better than Washington, so it must be incorrect, because he won all of his battles. However, that is only one piece of the battle puzzle. First off you can never more than double your combat unit strength, so since the Americans lose half their CUs each winter (except the Continental army if it is in winter quarters) the ability to achieve those full ratings for the Americans is very rare. Another issue is the British gain a regulars advantage and in ports the navy, which is two more ticks. On top of all that the attacker wins ties which is effectively another tick. The end result from actually playing the game is that the combination of all of the above creates a large British advantage in combat. If you look at the message traffic it appears that the British strategies in the game are more obvious so no one is having any problem winning battles or the game with the British. My point is you have to look at the totality of the battle system, not just the General ratings, to see how the game achieves the historical result.

What Chris is totally missing, which makes me believe that all I am getting is a rehash of his We The People review is his point about the worthless American generals. Due to attrition the Americans do not want to over invest in large armies that will just evaporate. However, any General will never lose his last CU due to attrition. Think guerrilla army. The Americans have 7 generals to the British 5 and if the French come into the game it is 8 to 5. For the Americans to achieve a strategic maneuver advantage, which was not necessary or desired in WTP, you want to have as many 1CU armies in the game as you can get. If you do this the Americans can maneuver to gain leverage over PC markers, which the British are hard pressed to do. The point is to demonstrate, albeit abstractly, a key feature of the real war. Therefore, Lincoln is a very useful general if he has 1 CU, but dangerous if you give him a substantial force. Lincoln with 1 CU protects a group of PC markers from isolation and is expensive to kill as the British do not move as easily as the Americans. 

The same is true in my For The People design. The ratings are not my evaluation of Lee or Grant specifically, but generally. What is also being represented is their ability to eschew logistic certainty and their impact on their subordinated command structures. The ratings are also how the game represents terrain. Note that there is no terrain distinction between spaces. How could that make sense? My view is there is defensible terrain everywhere, but it is the ability of the commander to find it that generates a terrain advantage as reflected in the rating. As you can see unless you bring in all of the factors, the ratings make no sense. Besides on any given day everyone had a bad day, which was an improvement that I brought into Washington's War.

Another point that you raise is about synchophants and people following the herd mentality and shouting down those that they disagree with etc. All I can say is that is not a BGG phenomena, but an internet feature. I have hardly ever seen any open forum discussion, anywhere, remain civil or change anyones view from the one they held when the shouting began. It is not a problem, but a feature, so I just avoid those situation as they go nowhere. What I will say is that David Dockter who is a first class consultant did a very detailed analysis of BGG ratings and CSW message traffic. Not perfect, but better than one persons' opinion. Empire of the Sun and For The People which are two games that Chris dislikes are in the top four games of total player activity. My point is the BGG rating system is interesting, but it is the temperature not the weather. Before they modified the algorithms not one of the games that I actually play were in the top 100 wargames of all time. Now I may not represent the mainstream of gamers, but that is too statistically odd for me to think much of the BGG rating system. Now that they have modified how they calculate things at least a couple of the games that I play are in the top 100 and not one that is in the top 10 or 25. Not much for me there.

Note that For The People has been played continuously for over a decade by a very active group of gamers. Not many wargames can claim that. Is For The People perfect, no, and neither is any game, but lots of people play it despite Chris panning it. Clearly they do not give a hoot about what Chris says or thinks. The same is true for Empire of the Sun. So, if a BGG rating represents your desire to play a game, not a subjective rating of design goodness, then activity should equal a high rating for these people. Does that make them synchophants? On another level who cares if they are having fun. 

My last point is important to me. I do not design games for money any longer. There is no money in it to be had and the amount of time I spend discoursing with gamers if put on a per hour basis would be less than I made when I had a paper route as a kid. I do this because of my passion for wargaming. I design games that I want to play. I spend most of my time playing For The People, Empire of the Sun and now Washington's War. If I do not want to play them why would anyone else. I only like to play games that are in my opinion, historically accurate. I actually research and think about all that goes into one of my games because if it bothers me I would change it. 

Well time to write another lecture and get some sleep,

Be well,


Posted by markherman at 9:09 PM EDT
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Saturday, 23 May 2009
FTP Recruitement
Topic: For The People Material
More or less...

I can gather it is a sociological inferation circa 1861-65, that the CSA Army cutting off Illinois, Indiana and Ohio would be a more economic negative substantial effect, as opposed to Union occupation of Georgia, Virginia and Tennesee in terms of SPs according to your data. 

To some degree this is an apples and oranges comparison. All is not always equal when it comes to production. The two sides use different recruitment models using the same factors.
The rail line discussion got me to go back into my notes (over a decade old) on this topic and see what data I had used for the recruitment model that generates SPs during the reinforcement phase. FTP is looking at frontline strength based on a soldiers on the rolls with some factors thrown in for frontline strength versus logistic troops. The overall analysis shows that once you get into mid 62 until almost the end of the war, the amount of men for each side hit a steady state that averaged around 48 (plus or minus 4) for the USA and 34 (plus or minus 3) for the CSA.
Remember, the historical model is based on the historical actions, so if the Union doesn't spend sufficient effort to shut down a blockade zone with amphibious forces or succeeds in accomplishing the capture of TN early in the war, etc. then the generalized model will produce different results.
When it comes to the overall model of what makes an SP it is a blend of Administration, People, and Ordnance. At all times there was some set of factors that limited output with the 1863 period being the one most in balance. So early in the war there was a surplus of people (recruitment enthusiasm), but a deficiency in administrative acumen and ordnance. Late in the war there was greater administrative efficiency and more available ordnance, but a deficiency in people (conscription difficulties due to going to war not being that attractive any longer). It is this deficiency that drove the Union to incorporate colored soldiers and the South to consider conscripting slaves into the army. When it comes to the Union, approximately 2/3rd of the SPs are being produced on the map and 1/3rd are being produced north of the map, so on a normal Union turn 12 SPs are produced on the map and 6 SPs are produced north of the map. I chose to consider Union State Capitals as key locations that impacted Union production as they were the administrative and production centers (ordnance and armories). My basic premise is if an administrative center is occupied it reduces the potential SPs available due to administrative and production losses. I viewed cutting railroads as disrupting production. I viewed DC as a major administrative center whose loss or isolation (loss of telegraphic communication) would create inefficiencies in SP production akin to when the Federal government shut down recruiting for a short time in 1863. There is also the Union Governor reaction effect whereby some amount of state troops would be held back akin to the National Guard of today.
Rolling back to a Confederate force operating across the three Western states would represent the disruption not only of state ordnance production, but occupation of the means to move people around. It also is severing the links to states like Michigan and Wisconsin (note that portions of the Great Lakes are just off the northern edge of the map). Perhaps more importantly is the Union states are not producing SPs equally. On the map IL, IN, OH, PA, and NJ are producing more than their share with NY, WI, MI, and MA the major contributors north of the map. So, in the aggregate the railline cutting rules are trying to capture an impact that taking out three major production centers and isolating them from the broader grid is taking out about 2/3rd of Union recruitment capability.
The southern model uses the same factors but behaves differently. The production centers are the resource spaces and the values represent their historical output normalized on 100 percent. New Orleans was always a problem as its potential production was never fully developed before it was captured, so I chose to model that blockade zone differently (takes only two to shut down) to account for this factor. The South was also dependent on finished ordnance and critical metals to maintain their production base, which is all tied into the blockade model. The issue with the south was the stronger state control over local production and recruitment. The Southern railroads could not support the Union industrial model making it far more local in nature. So although TN and VA were the major production centers the people were more distributed than they were in the north (New Orleans was the only major American city that went with the South). Consequently the Southern recruitment model is more resilient, but more vulnerable on the SW side if you were to lose both TN and VA (57 SW points).
So, different views of the same recruitment model. Now back to Riku's gambit. Quite frankly I put the rail cutting option into the game with a severe penalty with the knowledge that a Union player would do what it takes to stop it. The question on the table for me is whether this is a trick that cannot be stopped or just another historic vulnerability that has to be paid attention to. As far as whether it can or cannot be stopped, I submit that can be stopped without significant resources as per Riku's earlier comment. Columbus OH is the key coupled with effective use of strategic movement of reinforcements. Effectively if the CSA is threatening an invasion north of the Ohio, the Union has to have some rear area garrisons to limit Southern options.

Posted by markherman at 9:39 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 23 May 2009 9:59 AM EDT
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Saturday, 17 January 2009
For The People Riverine Q&A?
Topic: For The People Material

The one aspect of For The People that continues to create problems is the riverine rules. It is a function of a non-intuitive concept (non-bilateral relationship) and the need to read the rule and apply it literally. To aid this process the final version of the rules included extensive diagrams, which apparently most people do not want to look at. Anyway, here was a good exchange that captures all of the issues that seem to crop up with this rule and my responses. I felt that I needed to capture this as a future resource.


 Windopaene wrote:

To Mark:


What makes them confusing for me is a couple of things.


Upriver/downriver - there are a bunch of those rivers that don't run the way I think they should, (all heading south like the big M), so when reading the rules, I get confused about what is being described in the examples.


"Crossing a river" - There are one or two examples that talk about crossing a river when leaving a space, even though there are rules before that say that crossing a river only impacts crossing a blue line when entering a space that contains the blue bar. I may still have this confused.


And that's just the basic stuff. Doesn't even start to consider Riverine movement, and the like. And the coastal forts/inland associated port stuff.


I think I understand the rules, but don't feel like I am at all comfortable with them, and any attempt to apply them will result in having to go over them step by step as I try to take a move, to be sure I'm not screwing them up...


And Empire of the Sun is to For the People as For the People is to We The People... 



On the up/down river question, remember in the real world all rivers run to the sea, which is New Orleans in this case, so north-south has no relevance to rivers. However, we did put the arrows on the map to show you which way the river is running. I would use the arrows... as an aside, if you ever get lost in the woods and see a river, follow it downstream, eventually you will get somewhere... :-)


Crossing the River: this is the one that continues to confuse people, but mostly folks are not reading the rule, although the graphic chosen doesn't help. You are only crossing a river when you enter or exit a riverine port space. The part that gets missed is the last part, "...riverine port space." A riverine port space is any port space that has a blue bar. So entering any space that is NOT a port space regardless of whether you exited a Riverine port space to get there is NEVER crossing a river. 


As far as the rest of the riverine rules they are easy to summarize, but hard to write unless you use alot of words. Basically assume that the Union navy has river control unless there is a Confederate fort in the riverine port space, not adjacent, to the port space (see crossing the river above). There are really only two situation you have to consider. 


Situation 1: If you have a CSA fort (or ironclad), the CSA can cross the river. If not assume you cannot. Neither side can cross a river into a port that contains a fort. This is the corollary to why the CSA can cross from a port space where they have a fort. The simple concept is neither side can cross a river into a port space where there is an enemy fort and the CSA can never cross a river unless they have a fort in the space. This is by far the major case you have to remember regarding river crossing. 


Situation 2: There is another significant case when the CSA has a network of forts, such as in the opening, where they bookend a major portion of the river. (see the diagram on pg 28). Here, the combination of Fort Philip-Jackson, Columbus KY, and Dover TN creates a large Mississippi zone where the Union does not have naval control (deny Union naval control=DUNC). As soon as any of these forts fall, you more or less find yourself in the first case. 


I submit that this latter case is very visual if you just look at it logically, but beyond the opening set up, it is hard, approaching I have never seen it in actual play, where the CSA can do much better than their opening set up. Assuming that the CSA controls Fort Philip-Jackson OR has a fort in New Orleans, the CSA needs a fort in Columbus KY or Memphis TN or Vicksurg MS to hold any section of the Mississippi. Once New Orleans (and its associated fort) are Union, basically there are only two crossing points at Memphis and Vicksburg if there is a CSA fort present (situation 1 again). 


The only other portion of the river that ever gets in a similar state is the fort at Dover allows the CSA to cross at Clarksville and Nashville TN. Once Dover falls you find yourself back in Situation 1. There are other possibilities, but in actual play they just do not occur, so just do not try and consider them.


Hopefully that helps, but I would also not worry about all of the details, especially when you are learning the game. Basically deal out cards and move armies and conduct battles. The riverine rules tend to sort themselves out if you just look at all situations through the Situation 1 lens.


As far as the EoTS to FTP comment... that is a personal taste issue. What I find is folks never read or follow the sequence of play in EoTS (rule 6.2). I then get a whole host of questions that indicate that no one is following the sequence of play. In a hobby of rules lawyers I find this the most curious situation of all. I get beat up all of the time for not being precise in my wording, but the corollary is most people are not reading what is written, so we are even.


My biggest piece of advice is, stop reading the rules per se, but set up the game and play out, move by move using the 1861 turns at the front of the rules. We spent hundreds of hours creating and checking this for accuracy, but no one ever seems to use the resource. Once you get through the third turn in the example, just continue playing into 1862. If you do this you will experience just about every rule in the game through the example. I hope that helps your endeavors... 




Eric Brosius wrote:

MarkHerman wrote:

So entering any space that is NOT a port space regardless of whether you exited a Riverine port space to get there is NEVER crossing a river.



I think you are implying that the CSA can move from Louisville to Bloomington, or from Cincinnati to Falmouth, at any time regardless of the UNC situation, without a fort or ironclad in Louisville or Cincinnati.


I didn't think this was legal.


In rule 6.2 it says "A force is crossing a river the instant it enters or exits a riverine port space by crossing a blue bar which is part of the port space." (Italics supplied by me.)


To me this implies that moving from Louisville to Bloomington is crossing a river (and hence requires DUNC for the CSA,) while your quote seems to contradict this.


I recognize that you're the designer, Mark, so I may very well be missing something.



You have put your finger on the thing that continues to trouble folks, so you are not the first one to get this wrong. However, right in the rule that you cite, there is a diagram (bottom right of pg 24) that explicitly demonstrates the point that I am about to make. By the way the diagram is the Louisville-Bloomington situation that you mention. However, if you read my earlier note, sans a fort, the CSA cannot cross any rivers except when their fort network has protected a large segment of the river as in the opening set up. 


I cannot re-iterate this enough, practically speaking, unless you are crossing the Mississippi in the deep south with the original fort configuration, it is easier to assume that the CSA can never cross a river except if they have a fort in the space (note: ironclads allow CSA river crossing like forts, but are vulnerable to removal ala the USS Monitor unlike forts).


As to the citation you mention, you need to read the next sentence. It is important not to take just one sentence out of a rule, but apply the entire rule.


Rule 6.2...Forts affect entry into a riverine port space when crossing the blue bar that is part of the port space..."


The connection to spaces is not bilateral, in that what is permitted in one direction is not permitted in the other direction when a fort and a river are concerned (see the really informative diagram on page 24 that covers this exact situation). The question I always get asked is can a Union unit move from Washington to Manassas if there is a Confederate fort in Manassas. The answer is yes, because Manassas is not a port, so the river rules are not relevant. The opposite situation is not true, you cannot cross from Manassas into Washington if there is a fort in Washington because then you are effected by the river rules.


Before trying to apply the river rules ask yourself is the space a port, if the answer is no, do not look at the river rules. The closest wargame metaphor is when a game portrays rivers within a hex as opposed to sitting on a hexside. In FTP the rivers are effectively running through the hex.


Besides the written rule and a diagram, not sure what else I can do. People who have tried this game and gotten frustrated, like the nice guy who started this thread, continue to tell me how much the river rules confuse them. I hear their pain, but the rules here are written very precisely and each concept has a diagram, beyond that all I can do is dialog with folks when they ask for help. The key is if the space is not a port then the riverine rules that continue to bother some just do not apply. I hope that helps,



Posted by markherman at 9:59 AM EST
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Sunday, 11 January 2009
Empire of the Sun Combat Model
Topic: Empire of the Sun

Design thoughts on what is represented by how losses are distributed to full and reduced strength units. 


Sorry for the delay, but this business year has started at a sprint. This can be an article in c3i and might be at some point, but right now here are the basics.


I cannot emphasize this enough and I know that it causes cognitive dissonance for many wargamers, but geographic position of forces  during an offensive has no, let me say that again, no tactical significance. As Nimitz, you are resourcing an offensive based on JCS guidance (card) and available logistics (activations and range). What you care about is the timing of the offensive (how you sequence the cards), the objectives, and the kinds of forces sent (e.g. mix of carriers, air, surface, and ground forces). Where those forces are on the map to include what they are doing (smothering or involved in the main action) has no game cause and effect relationship. Basically the pieces have to be somewhere and since range via force movement is calculated the location of pieces is mostly a mnemonic to ensure that range calculations are conducted properly.


Just about every 'strategic' Pacific War game on the market or about to be on the market, embeds a mechanism for tactical timing (e.g., first wave air strikes, torpedoes, etc.) and a distinct surface action. I did all of those things in my earlier operational design Pacific War where it was the core of the design. This is based on the emphasis that the available literature places on the big naval battles, which were all carrier battles. But, there were only 6 carrier battles of this scale during the war. The importance of carriers goes way beyond big naval battles handled in EoTS via the air Zone of Influence mechanic. Don't get me wrong, it is loads of fun to re-fight carrier battles, but EoTS as a strategic simulation purposely divorces itself from this misguided hobby tradition.


What the combat model is trying to do, is produce a spectrum of historical losses relative to  your opponents action during an offensive. So for example losing a CVE to a smothering element of an offensive and then hearing that CVEs were not used in that manner, just totally misses the design point. Here I am leveraging player psychology to achieve an historical distribution of losses ala Leyte, without any special rules. In this design, the CVEs are part of the broader offensive and where they are on the map and the dice roll that they are associated with is a mathematical construct to achieve an historical outcome. It is not a statement about historical operational doctrine other than the historical role of smothering operations. I have analyzed every Pacific offensive and the combat system will reproduce all of the historical outcomes in a reasonably painless manner.


The combat system is based on a firepower model that uses effectiveness (total strength) and efficiency (modified die roll outcome) to generate potential damage.  The combat system then uses a hit allocation mechanic to turn potential damage into real damage, but does it to create non-linear outcomes (e.g., inability to score every last hit). The non-linear effects broadly introduce the aggregate effects of air superiority (e.g., carrier and air damage restrictions), doctrine (e.g., JP CVLs), and light naval force losses (e.g., DD losses). It is this last point that bears on the original question that initiated this post.


Every simulation has some level of molecular granularity that you cannot go below. In Pacific War I have individual DD losses, but in EoTS except for a few special small force units (e.g., JP APD Tokyo Express) all of the CLs and DDs are embedded in the larger Capital ship aggregations. One can look at a reduced naval unit as either the loss of one of the Capital ships (e.g,, Yamato/ Mushashi) represented by the piece or the stripping out of the light forces in the piece making the remaining Capital ships both less effective and more vulnerable due to the loss of the screening forces. It really doesn't matter because the full strength/ reduced strength is both representing some loss of capability for a damaged force aggregation and creating a non-linearity for the losses that are realized from any number of applied hits. From a CinC perspective it is a resourcing and force composition issue that is represented by the full and half strength units where the details are below your pay grade to worry about.  


I hope that answers the question...



Posted by markherman at 9:59 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 14 January 2009 5:19 PM EST
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Wednesday, 7 January 2009
London Times Article Link
Topic: Wargaming For Leaders

Posted by markherman at 8:56 PM EST
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Sunday, 4 January 2009
What's the End Game?
Topic: Wargaming For Leaders

Hamas continues to prove that anarchists cannot run a government. It is clear that Hamas' agenda of destroying Israel dominates any concerns about the Palestinians it governs. They purposely make their people targets of Israeli bombs, so they can use the subsequent destruction and deaths as further justification for their agenda. There are reports that Hamas has used the situation to assassinate opponents as they lay helpless in hospital beds. The sad truth is Hamas doesn't care to govern, just sacrifice the Gazan people on the altar of their agenda. What is worse, it is working, if the naive protests across the globe are any indication of popular sentiment. 


On the other hand, I cannot believe that the Israelis seriously wargamed this situation out. As outrageous as the rocket attacks were, it is beyond me to imagine how this offensive is going to do anything but legitimize Hamas. Air strikes usually achieve the majority of their objectives in the first 48-72 hours. Once you have knocked down or destroyed all of the fixed infrastructure (e.g., buildings, tunnels, ammo caches) you reach an impasse that forces you to stop or escalate. Which is exactly where the Israelis have found themselves. Fanatics never surrender, that is why they are called fanatics. Since the Israeli military knew this, the ground invasion was always going to be a component of this offensive.


Now that the Israeli Army is on the ground in Gaza there is almost no way that innocent civilians will not be killed in significant numbers. If nothing else, Hamas will make sure that this occurs by operating their forces amongst the population. As more Gazans die, the more radical the future generations of Palestinians become. So, it begs the question, what is the Israeli end game?


This was a situation where the Israeli's needed to take the missile fire and bring regional actors to the table to cut off Hamas' funding and ability to smuggle in weapons. There is no way that the new longer range rockets that Hamas is firing into Israel got there without the knowledge of Egypt, Iran, and probably all of the other Arab countries. The road to stopping Hamas begins in Tehran and Cairo. Unfortunately Israel was entering an election cycle and felt compelled to take more direct action. The end result of failure is Israel is now going to become more radical as nothing else has worked. It remains to be seen where this all ends, but if the actors in this drama do not start to consider what the end game looks like, the innocents suffer and peace will remain very elusive.


However, stay tuned, as the Gaza situation may not remain the crisis du jour. the Indo-Pakistani situation is not fully resolved despite some hopeful signs tempered by Pakistani troop movements. Hard to say how that situation will develop, but the new administration needs to start looking beyond the next crisis with a long term set of initiatives that lead to a positive end game for the Middle East and SW Asia.

Posted by markherman at 10:56 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 5 January 2009 12:19 AM EST
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Sunday, 21 December 2008
The Culture of War
Topic: Wargaming For Leaders

Since the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) what occurs during a period of continuous conflict is a culture of war becomes generationally entrenched. All one has to do is look at Afghanistan, Kasmir, Somalia, Sudan (Darfur), Zimbabwe, Congo, and Sri Lanka, to name just a few and you see the next generation of children becoming warriors as they do not know any other way. 


The children soldiers of today are the fuel that turns a war into an intergenerational way of life. In the end the world is faced with how to wean these children off of the only way of life they have ever known.


The UN and the World at large is going to have their hands full not only ending the strife, but then demobilizing the minds of millions of children from repeating the mistakes of their elders. This is a multi-generational, multi-disiplinary problem that is going to take a worldwide megacommunity to solve. Hopefully we can begin the process by ending some of the longer standing conflicts and then attempting to deal with the peace that is often harder to win than the war it resolved.

Posted by markherman at 4:42 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 22 December 2008 12:25 AM EST
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What makes a good historical simulation?
Topic: Wargame Design Musings

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 10:57 AM EST
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What is historical?
Topic: Empire of the Sun

A parochial view...


What is strange about the above is that EotS is still in it's FIRST print run; I can't see why it never sold out! 


I appreciate the sentiment and Gene's kind remark, but I have been very disappointed in the sales of this title. The good news is the game has found its audience and unlike many games I believe it has a much better reputation now than when it was originally released. 


I ascribe this to a couple of things, some of it my fault. I think I was too eager to update the rules, which gave the uninformed the impression that the game was less than it could be. A second point revolved around some perceived and real balance issues. The real issues have long ago been dealt with; my upcoming article in C3i 21 should handle the perceived ones. 


Another factor centers on my personal view that as much as gamers want innovation, they do not want it at the expense of what is familiar. Last, some of the 'big' name bloggers who have followings were very aggressive at panning this title. The collection of which led to lackluster sales. 


However, once the pack moved onto the latest and greatest product, those of us who actually play games more than once have been having deep strategy discussions about this title. If CSW topic traffic is an indicator, few titles move much beyond rules questions and then obscurity, many of which have much higher BGG ratings than EoTS. David Dockter and another fellow whose name escapes me did some very interesting analysis on what is actually getting played. 


On the other hand all of the publications that formally reviewed the game were all very positive, plus the game did win a Charlie in Design (thank you Stephen) and Graphics (another GMT graphic team success). 


What I was going for is a game that I want to play repeatedly while still feeling that there was more to learn. As I am slower than the pack, this is easy for me, but nevertheless I continue to enjoy playing this title continuously. I look forward to our next challenge match that will begin in January. 


Happy Holidays, 





Why I do not like EotS that much


Maybe it's time for a different point of view here. I played the game now several times and I have concerns with the game which others shared and still share despite the rules updates. 


First of all: Movement in this game is innovative, but historically unsound. Why? Take our beloved Yamato (or as I call here: The Resurrection Ship with a nod to Battlestar Galactica) is usually hovering around the whole pacific, always there, were you do not like it. And the beast takes 18 points to inflict damage, so you better be careful with it. There are other issues with movement of the IJN, but the main beef I have is: lack of oil and/or resource rules in EotS. If the IJN player wants, he can move the forces around like he wants it. 


The only thing he should not do is the historical way: Bunch them up in range of the US Player, which brings me to the second problem: The easy pinning of forces (or as Markus Stumptner called it: the Wonderglue effect) Air fleets can pin down any number of forces in a single hex. So, spreading out is the heart of the game for the IJN player. Mind you, it does not save him from utter destruction in the end, as this almost always is ensured, but it makes for some quite ahistorical gameplay in the years before. 


Third problem: The POW mechanism. Like so many things that sound cool in theory, in practice this leads to the IJN never committing to New Guinea, at least the discussion after the last game showed, why committing to it is often a recipe for desaster. Firstly, all these nice NG hexes are POW hexes if occupied. Secondly, it prolongs the IJN front to a point, where the Allies have easy access. 


Fourth problem: The War in Europe. True, one can recover even from the worst depths of the WiE track as shown during the last game. But with a less than average hand, you are doomed as the Allied player or if you are unlucky with any comebacks. If it happens too early, you are screwed. 


These are just my personal problems I have. Mind you, I had great fun playing EotS as a game and it poses interesting challenges for the players. It even resembles the Pacific War rather closely if you look at it from a high level. The smaller operational subgame, however, lacks due to problem no. 1 and the other (albei smaller) issues I have, make EotS only my second choice compared to Fire in the Sky or Pacific Fleet.




Perceptions of what is historical...


Philip, I appreciate your candor and I intend to address your points in sequence. I also want to state that my comments are not intended to be defensive or aggressive, but it is hard to disagree in writing and not make it appear so. I am sure that your comments were directed in a like manner. 


One of the weaker parts of gamer culture is to base ones arguments on something in a wargame as being ahistorical based on ascertain and what other games have done. I am well read and teach these subjects at the graduate school level (adjunct professor at the Naval War College and Georgetown University). So, I do not put things in my games unless I have the facts. They are my interpretation of the data, but it would be strange if I had not thought through all of these issues. 


Movement: I am not sure how to respond to the Yamato concern as that is a player choice and many of the Japanese plans revolved around it use. It spend much of the war outside of Japan, so its use or non-use is a player decision. The comment on its attack-defense strength is context driven and its evocation as the resurrection ship I'll pick up later. The way the combat system works you would end up in two situations with the Yamato (Mushashi). It is full strength with other full strength units, in which case the weaker units will take the hits. It is the only full strength unit in the battle, in which case it has to take 18 hits before any other units take any hits, which is more or less what happened when the USN found it before Leyte as it was the biggest thing in their sights. I would also offer that once it takes one hit (Mushahi lost ala Leyte), the piece is more or less impotent to perform the above roles. 


The resurrection ship comment is a bit of historical drama. It was my view that the Yamato had to be one of the last ships in the Japanese fleet at the end of the game. Given the tough nature of the ship based on how many bombs/ torpedoes it took to sink, I viewed most losses to the unit as severe damage. Also, my knowledge of the design says that at the end of the game CVLs are more useful than the Yamato, so not all of the 6 naval replacements that the JP receive would be used on this unit. The combination of these factors gave me confidence that the Yamato would be around through most of the game as it was historically, but overuse would have its own consequences. 


Within the movement comments is one around ahistorical movement of Japanese fleet elements. Some facts are required here. The Japanese were not short of oil, they were short of refining capacity and the transport oilers to move it to Japan. The Strategic Bombing study covers the oil issue in excruciating detail as you would suspect given the strategic nature of oil. I have examined all of the numbers on barrels per day pumped, refined, transported and the like, so within the Japanse empire there was a surplus of oil, unfortunately not in the right form nor in the right location (Japan). Remember, prior to the war, Indonesia alone would have supplied Japan with more oil than it could use, so once it was captured and the infrastructure damaged by the retreating Dutch units repaired that oil was available. 


However, lack of refining capacity due to damage and the devastation of the always insufficient Japanese oiler units created a shortage of fuel. This is why the fleet was moved to Singapore and Tawi-Tawi to bring the fleet elements closer to the unrefined oil that can be used if one is willing to deal with the maintenance issues, which historically the Japanese did. EoTS uses card activations to handle how much logistics are available (to include ammunition not just oil) to move and fight with. Other games use other viable simplifications to handle this situation, such as oil points or command points (e.g., PacWar). But this raises the second issue around 'ahistorical' movement. 


Although it is true that the Japanese had refined oil issues throughout the war there is a very big difference between cruising from location to location and going to battle. In fact if you do a ship by ship examination of movement, the Japanese navy moved frequently (over any 4 month period of time), just not into battle. In fact if you track the movements of all of the Japanese cruisers and light ships, which is the bulk of their fleet they moved at least several times per turn on various missions to include refits to Japan. 


All of the big fleet elements fought hard in 1942 and then were fairly quiet from a fighting point of view during 1943 that had more to do with the strategic situation and the decimation of the Japanese air units than fuel. However, if you track the big units movements they moved about once per turn to train, refit, and the like even over this period. Based on the historical record, the Japanese shifting their naval forces around in the game is just the historical browning motion that occurred. The fragility and the permanence of loss for most Japanese naval units was the natural governor on how many battles you get to fight in. 


Fleet basing: It is interesting that this point is raised and as I stated in my earlier post about the "big" bloggers views gets brought up here. I wrote an entire monograph on this point that is downloadable from my website on this exact topic. To hear the same ahistorical comment applied once again without any data or historical facts is just a continuance of another urban legend about this game that hurt its initial sales. 


However, there is one additional comment that I would like to make. The idea that the Japanese grouped their fleet into big fleet bases is not entirely accurate. The JP naval order of battle is grouped around naval divisions. So most of the Japanese pieces are grouped in their command organization. Each CA piece is one of the cruiser divisions, BBs etc. The Japanese deployed their major fleet units by division and they were distributed across a number of bases. Even when Truk was the major fleet base, it contained at its height Two Carrier divisions, two BB divisions, and 2 to 3 Cruiser divisions. There were not many locations that had as much except back in Japan where the other BB divisions were located (BB Nagato piece). So, the bottomline is any stack of 3 Japanese naval units, which is normal when I play EoTS constitutes, historically, a major fleet base. Even one naval unit in a hex is a significant fleet concentration. One needs to remember the scale and size of these pieces. 


I would also offer that there are good reasons in EoTS to mass the fleet as when it is dispersed it just gets picked off unit by unit. Which brings up another point about many folks not liking aspects of innovation that are unfamiliar. Location of forces in an empty map design are not absolute. Look at the dispersal of the fleet as a snapshot of where units were reported as they moved (see earlier comment) around. In either case the whole notion of smothering fleet bases has been covered and academically documented by me. If this element bothers you, it is just going to bother you but I disagree that it is ahistorical. 


PoW mechanism: I will make two points here. I am not sure what the comment is here. On one hand the New Guinea strategy from the last game is cited as ahistorical, because it did not work, yet the historical one did not work, so it is ahistorical. Anyway, what I stated earlier about the fact that we are having deep strategy discussions about this title is born out here. I am not convinced that our New Guinea strategy lost us the game, but that is another discussion. My second point is my article in the upcoming C3i 21 has a detailed discussion on why I totally disagree with this comment, so I will just leave it there for now, except to say that I spend several paragraphs showing why this point of view doesn't work in actual game play and why the historical path as supported by the PoW mechanic is a superior strategy in the game. 


WiE: The major factor that effected how the War in the Pacific progressed (e.g., logistics) was the War in Europe. I chose to include it as a factor that the historical commanders had to deal with. It is one of those things that is a matter of taste not history. Everyone has their likes and dislikes and is entitled to them. Which is a good place to end this reply. As you note, you like other Pacific games better and they are fine games, so I am glad that the global marketplace continues to offer choices to satisfy everyones needs. My comments are not directed at saying one design is better than another, but a counter view to the mistaken notion of what is or is not historical in the EoTS wargame design. 






Jay in response to Phil


Third problem: The POW mechanism. Like so many things that sound cool in theory, in practice this leads to the IJN never committing to New Guinea, at least the discussion after the last game showed, why committing to it is often a recipe for desaster. 


I've played this game as much as anyone and I don't agree with this view. When the game was first published, the PoW mechanism was much more challenging for the US and it was a vehicle Japan could pursue to win. But with the V2.0 of the rules, the PoW mechanism functions more to make the US spend ASPs each turn and capture bases instead of focusing exclusively on raiding. 


In the several games I've played, whether Japan takes NG or not does not determine if the US makes PoW. All it does is dictate where the US will make PoW. If not in NG, then in the Marshalls or DEI or central Pacific. When Japan concedes the Solomons and NG, then the US "jump-off" point for the counter-offensive starts closer to Japan and since the invasion of Japan is a matter of "when" not "if", this gives the US a big advantage. 


Fourth problem: The War in Europe. True, one can recover even from the worst depths of the WiE track as shown during the last game. But with a less than average hand, you are doomed as the Allied player or if you are unlucky with any comebacks. If it happens too early, you are screwed. 


I think Japan getting a poor hand on turns 2 and 3 impact the game much more than the WiE mechanism. The WiE is only a viable path to victory if Japan draws 2 or more WiE cards in a turn in turns 2 to 4. Outside of that, the WiE is a bit of fool's gold for Japan. It looks like it will win you the game but if you pursue it without thought, you will lose more than you will win. To me the WiE mechanism is really a "random scenario generator" (with some player interaction since Japan doesn't have to play WiE as events) that make each game unique. 


Your first two points are more on the "tactical" aspects of the game and in strategic games, there has to be some level of tactics (forces have to move and fight)--how you rationalize those is often a matter of intepretation and there will be some games that have mechanics that you can't rationalize. At that point, I agree that it is hard to play a game if what is going on doesn't make sense to you. 


What I like most about EoTS compared to other strategic level Pacific games is how the cards dictate operations. In turn based games, each side takes turns sending out all their offensive operations at once and this means that units can only participate in one offensive per turn. It also tends to mean that you focus on massing your fleets for big offensives so the other guy can't react in such a way to get a big local advantage. In EoTS though, there are several offensives over the course of the turn--some big, some small and some in between. And some turns there are hardly any at all. You don't get this variation in other games. 


I think why EoTS is not as popular as FTP, Wilderness War, WtP, TS, etc. is 1) that it is really a combination of a hex game and a card game and 2) that it takes 12+ hours or 6 months (PBEM) to play the campaign. 


I think FTP and the others are popular because they are not hex games--they are not as complicated (this is seens as benefit), players can focus on a few high level decisions (that are often hard) and they, frankly, these types of games were new to the hobby when they came out 10-15 years ago. So the hardcore CDG are not as apt to take on EoTS. Likewise, the hardcore hex-based gamers are not as apt to take on a CDG so in effect, EoTS by spanning both types of games, limits its audience to gamers who go for both types. 


The other big reason is play time. If you want a popular game, it has to play quick given people's lifestyles today. Longer games will appeal to a niche audience but to get the level of sales of say TS, the game has to play quickly.




Thanks Mark for your very deep answer. I will have to read it more carefully (no time right now)...thanks again!

Posted by markherman at 10:53 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 21 December 2008 10:55 AM EST
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Sunday, 7 December 2008
Day of Infamy
Topic: Wargaming For Leaders


Today is not only December 7th, but its also a Sunday. If it was 67 years ago, the war would have begun around 1PM EST, so just like others in Washington that fateful day, I woke up, drank some coffee and began reading the morning papers. At that moment the Japanese carriers were NW of Oahu preparing to deliver what they thought would be a killing blow to Americas warfighting capability. I have explored this topic in two commercial wargames (Pacific War and Empire of the Sun, the latter is available for free at: and I continue to study the decision process that brought Japan to attack Pearl Harbor this day 67 years ago.


The reality of war is it is always an uncertain affair and ending a war is much harder than starting one. Since the industrial age all sides pay a high price in war. The Japanese truly believed that they could prevail in a war against the United States and their allies, but their end game thinking was at best heroic in its assumptions and at worse delusional. The lesson is assumptions that are not put to rigorous analysis are often flawed and lead to very poor decisions.


When I think of the Allied alliance in World War II I am struck by how little is written or discussed about the nature of alliances. One  should remember that alliances have traditionally been mechanisms that take small wars and make them big wars, something that our new leadership should take into account as they re-examine our current theory on expanding NATO. Alliances also have more often than not lowered the barrier to war  and reduced security. The reason is it enables less significant alliance members to make emboldened decisions that impact the collective. These two themes have played themselves out since the Peloponnesian War. The lessons of history are pretty clear on these two points.


So on this December 7th, Sunday morning, I would like to remember the suffering of the brave men and women, from all sides who died on this day and those that came after it. May they rest in peace...

Posted by markherman at 10:11 AM EST
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