Topic: For The People Material
"FTP is an outstanding game that is very, very well balanced and has wonderfully inventive and absolutely elegant systems, but in game play will generally not yield a narrative that is familiar to anyone with any knowledge of the actual Civil War."
Here is a link with some interesting questions and hopefully reasonable answers.
Rumbles across the internet...
I heard of the recent exchange, so I am marching to the sound of the guns...
Before the academics in the crowd begin doing the ready, shoot, aim... I have taught graduate level Military strategy courses for the Naval War College and do so currently for Georgetown University. I have also been building military simulations for the Pentagon for thirty years. I do this so I can make my point and avoid having to post bona fides later.
There is always some level of uncertainty at all levels of battle, but in a pre-gunpowder linear battle the question is how does the uncertainty impact tactical decisions and are blocks the best model for representing this effect? I would submit that blocks are lots of fun in a two player game and bring good psychological tension, but most block games have mechanics where the units do not reveal themselves until the forces are in contact. Never been in an ACW battle or seen what Pompey saw at Pharsalus, but at some point prior to actual contact you do kind of know what is coming. However, from a model point of view if you cannot do anything or little about it then for all intents and purposes it has the same effect. The question is does having a higher level of information (counters revealed) allow for generous tactical reactions? If the force, space, and time factors are appropriately tuned to the information there are many ways to skin the uncertainty cat.
My take on it is reserves and tactical traps should be allowed in the system (hidden deployment at Dara in our Cataphract game), but having a reasonable knowledge of the width and general troop density of the front lines does not seem unreasonable. In fact not knowing seems more unreasonable. Dust from marching occurs once the forces are in motion, but most of these battles had a forming up period with a lull of sorts so I would expect at some point a good view of the enemy front line would present itself. Also, not every battle was fought on a dusty plain. Wet grass does not obscure vision on a pre-gunpowder battlefield. Now once folks start closing and stabbing each other things would get confused, but most games lock in the frontlines at some point so tactical maneuvers become more difficult anyway. The action tends to be on the flanks where you can get around someone or using the Alexandrian technique of creating an interior flank, etc. In the Roman way of war, when it works you just bust through the front. The ability of the Romans to line change and conduct sub-unit maneuvers was based on some level of tactical knowledge at the point of contact otherwise why would they invent a doctrine that made no sense.
There are lots of ways to get there, but although blocks are a viable option, they do have some shortcomings when it comes to how well they represent the appropriate level of uncertainty in a tactical battle. I think there are better techniques and some of the alternate techniques offer more options in solo play.
First, I wonder if we, in hindsight, overestimate how much knowledge that one person, (the man - usually - responsible for making decisions on the spur of the moment, in the heat of battle, with death, noise, and the screams of fellow humans assaulting his senses, with conflicting information being relayed to him every minute), really could bring to bear on his decision-making process in the midst of battle, no matter how clear a day it was, how little dust, and how flat and open the terrain.
In modern combat where a few folks with lots of firepower can move and conceal themselves, I agree, but I thought the conversation was around linear battles and I was specifically focusing on pre-gunpowder linear battles. I believe that if we were able to see one ancient battle, we would have seen one ancient battle. This is why most of the GBOH scenarios have lots of special rules because the unique circumstances often had a dramatic impact on the outcome. I also would note that I have always followed the view that we are at best guessing as many of the ancient sources are not contemporaneous to the time, often writing centuries after the event from sources that did not survive into modern times. Hard to know, so I do not try for truth, just a spectrum of possible situations as indicated by the sources and let the players explore all of them. For example our Pharsalus battle has multiple options for the order of battles and tactics depending on who you believe.
What a commander did or did not know about what he was confronting varied across the spectrum. Let's take the battle of Metaurus. The Carthaginians knew that they were finished because they heard the morning trumpets and could count that the number of legions had doubled over night. So, the notion that ancient commanders were a befuddled confused lot that walked blind into a combat situation was true on occasion, such as Kadesh, but on other occasions they knew the basic score.
I always go back to the expectations of the participants. Any successful traps and ambushes first occurred at the operational level, prior to contact. That is why it is so hard to balance some of the ancient battles as in many cases like Metaurus the loser had already lost ala Sun Tzu's dictums and in the Carthaginian case they already knew it before they had left camp. There were situations when both sides were surprised, but I think that is more the exception that makes the rule.
Second, out of honest curiosity and respect for someone who has deigned many wargames that I have played, enjoyed, and agreed with the history portrayed, what are those shortcomings that blocks have that can be better handled by counters?
Blocks are great, but they are one tool in the kitbag for me. I find myself with Richard on this. I think they really shine at the operational level in almost any period, but for pre-gunpowder linear battles, I think the hidden intelligence element is improperly represented. Not some fact, just my view. In a linear battle although there is a lot of noise that noise is also information. Twelve guys cannot sound like a thousand up close, so the notion that a weak block at a football field away is going to fool me into thinking I am under heavy assault just does not make sense even with dust and such. Even in modern combat tanks do not sneak up on anyone, even quiet ones. Of course there are great exceptions where acoustic shadows create unusual sound doldrums, but that does not usually happen in line of sight situations. So, bottom line, blocks do not seem to represent for me the kind of chaos that did occur during an ancient tactical battle. That does not mean that I am right, just that my reading of the sources and some basic logic does not lead me to that conclusion. The kinds of chaos that does occur is confused orders, key people getting killed by a missile weapon that shakes a unit, etc. But in the end the block mechanic, while fun does not work for me at the tactical level. Just my view.
My biggest problem with blocks is more mechanical and production oriented. First off I am not a big fan of some assembly required. Not a big deal and I applaud GMT and any other company that gives two sets of labels as I am a klutz with getting them on straight. I also do not like that once a unit loses some strength the unit designation etc., is no longer upright. No big thing, but I do not like the aesthetic. Lastly, I play games mostly solo, so the entire hidden intelligence thing is wasted on me 99% of the time. Not a good or a bad thing, but a lifestyle issue.
Intelligence and who knows what when is critical to understand the circumstances of a particular battle. To handle intelligence interactions I prefer cards and other mechanisms. I also use various mechanics such as in Empire of the Sun, whereby you have a basic idea where units are located, but at the moment of contact that information may not be what you thought due to intelligence failure. It seems more powerful and effective from my perspective. Again that is a design preference not an established fact.
Anyway that is how I see it.
<Based on a long and now acrimonious thread on what is a CDG? I wrote this response>
I continue to note high levels of hostility over how one group wants to define something and another groups desire that this is anathema or somehow wrong. It is clear why war is part and parcel to the human experience.
When I designed WTP I was going for a strategic level political military wargame and that is what I produced. I used the GO mechanic as a metaphor for the political struggle that was part and parcel to representing the American Revolution. See my articles in c3i and ATO on this topic. I stand by my description in my Washington's War design notes on what I think a CDG is and I am happy for others to have their definition. I was not designing a CDG or a card driven game, I was designing and publishing an American Revolution wargame, which I have successfully accomplished over forty times. The game had many fans, although I would note that the design never won any awards. But it did generate a new interest in competitive play amongst wargamers that was formerly not a critical element in the culture.
When WTP came out I was approached by several gamers who are patent attorneys. They wanted to help me patent the concept. With several patents pending I was aware of the process and chose consciously not to pursue this option. Whether the patent office would or would not have agreed will never be known, but at the time, veteran wargamers and more importantly wargame designers saw WTP as a new design concept. Peer review from the likes of CV, Mark Simonitch, and Ted Raicer to name a few is what created the genre.
Mark Simonitch in Hannibal and Ted Raicer in Paths of Glory both acknowledge in their credits and design notes borrowing many of their primary systems from We The People. They did not have to do that but as they are quality individuals and very talented designers this had a powerful influence on opinion. I would also note that both games are much more popular than We The People according to the BGG ratings and the opinion of about everyone I know in wargaming. I then brought out For The People, the fourth in the group, and somewhere amongst all of this the term CDG was coined and it stuck. Was it the perfect term, seemed to work for the last fifteen years or so, and since people who buy CDGs wanted to buy more of them the game companies branded as many games with the term as they seemed to boost sales.
Why are CDGs popular with many wargamers? One aspect is they seem to generate a great deal of enthusiasm for competitive play. Consequently play balance in CDGs is an important feature. But what is a CDG that makes them unique? Basically they borrow heavily from the We The People design. What are those features? If you have not played WTP or any of the other CDGs then this can be argued to death, which is what has been happening. So my advice is try playing one before you tell those of us who are immersed in them what they are or are not.
CDGs continue to evolve as noted by me in my Washington's War design notes. We The People does not have the common feature that keeps getting put forward as a unique CDG feature, the card choice of ops or event. We The People had this concept based on a hand of cards, but not around each card. That innovation occurred in Hannibal and was a Mark Simonitch improvement. When I did Washington's War I chose to keep the original concept for the reasons I articulated in my design notes and a nod here to Unhappy King Charles for being the closest of the CDGs to the original concept and why it is my favorite of the recent CDG offerings.
The main division in CDGs these days is between the one deck unscripted designs (WTP, FTP, WWR, Hannibal) and the scripted two deck temporally segmented concept (a PoG innovation ala Twilight Struggle, Shifting Sands, BtB, Stalin's War, UKC). Only WTP and Hannibal used the strong GO mechanic whereas the others morphed into using control for supply and territory control icons. What is clear is the wargame community sees a clear genre of games that are recognizable as a group whatever you call them. Literally parsing the term CDG is kind of useless as it is a symbolic term that is based on a collective group agreement. You don't agree then you do not have to, but it is a branded term that works for the publishers and the buyers. The main distinction in my mind is the designers of these games and others in the CDG family claimed they were related to We The People and consequently all branches and sequels thereafter carry the same label. I had nothing to do with their decisions or their professional courtesy in acknowledging the design heritage, but it is hard to argue with.
Those are the facts as I experienced them and I am very happy the way things have evolved as I now have lots of CDGs to play that continue to bring new innovations to the hobby. For the record my CDG of choice is Empire of the Sun and it has only a modest relationship to my original WTP design. I suspect that as CV opined with a few more nudges a new genre will break off and coin a new term that everyone will argue about.
One of the healthy debates that continues in the wargaming community is what does or does not make a particular game an historical simulation. A challenge that a designer faces is the uneven knowledge across the community on what is factual information or myth based on earlier game designs. A case in point is a key Empire of the Sun sub-system whereby intelligence about enemy dispositions is determined.
It should be obvious that if two players are sitting at the same map and moving their pieces that both sides have an extraordinarily clear picture of where the enemy forces are located. Many designs try to handle the 'fog of war' in many ways, but in the end the visual clues of counters, whether real or 'dummy' counters, does indicate where enemy forces are located, but even more importantly where they are not located.
As I have predominantly worked in manual games you need to work within your medium. It is an inescapable fact that the pieces on the board have to be somewhere that is visible to both players without creating some elaborate double blind system that tends to bog down play with its resultant feeling of tedium. I look at this issue not as a problem but a feature of manual games and I work with it as a strength if properly incorporated into a design.
When I designed Empire of the Sun I wanted to simulate the 'fog of war' in a very different manner. I went for what I will call the 'empty' map where you see forces, but their location is intended to be imprecise. I see the piece locations as an abstract electron cloud where the precise location of the electrons is only known when you closely observe them at a particular instance.
What this means in practical play is once the location of the offensive forces move to an objective fixing their relative location to an objective, the opposing or reaction player then determines where his forces are located for that series of battles initiated by the offensive player. Within this concept resides the ability to have ground forces at the objective despite the fact that the offensive player thought it was undefended or less defended than it appeared when the offensive began.
The reason that this is important to a Pacific War design, although it would reasonably apply to any campaign in history, is the historical accounts are replete with examples that the Allies were usually incorrect as to the size and composition of Island defenses. This inability to understand the true nature of the Japanese defenses was an important historical feature of the conflict and one that is simulated in Empire of the Sun. Here is a link to a primary source document that demonstrates my point.
If you get a chance to look this document over note this little gem buried in the text.
Pg 74-4: "The enemy ground strength was considerably in excess of what was expected, sizeable reenforcements having arrived in the Marianas just prior to our attack."
This is EXACTLY what is being simulated when you make a reaction amphibious move with the Japanese in response to an Allied offensive. The reality being simulated is the Japanese ground unit was already on the Allied objective before it began.
However, mechanically this is hard to do with physical pieces on a board if you execute the historical actions in a time linear manner. What I did in Empire of the Sun is the Allied player in this example is forced to launch his offensive with uncertain knowledge. The Allies are aware of what the potential Japanese dispositions may be at the time of the offensive, but needs to apply a risk profile for the attack and plan accordingly. This is what the real commanders faced during the war. Depending on player style you tend to either accept a great deal of risk or send more than you will need, which is exactly the debate that repeated itself throughout the war.
The mechanic in the game reverses the actual sequence of events to hide the Japanese intentions until the Allies are committed to their attack. It is at this time that through the reaction mechanic the Allied player finds out what was really at the objective all of the time, but without the Japanese player having to go through an elaborate paper driven planning process. Let's face it, lots of paperwork is not fun in real life or in a wargame. The net effect of the mechanic is player behavior and thinking begins to approximate what occurred during the war.
<sarcastic mode on> Although as many of the 'experts' on the various boards tell me Empire of the Sun is not a very good historical simulation because of subsystems like this as it is too 'gamey'. So, please note, this historical primary source quote, not their opinion, must be wrong.</sarcastic mode off>
Excuse my sarcasm, but this goes directly to my earlier comment that while we have a solid tradition of debate in the wargaming community many voices in the debate know far less than they really know. But that is the nature of a democracy, so you take the good with the bad.