Monday, August 29, 2005

If

An old adaptation I managed to dig up to fill the blog until my next article:

If you can keep your command unit when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when your doubles partner doubts you
But make allowance for his doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being cheated, don't deal in loaded dice;
Or give up a couple of weekend of dating;
And don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can plan - and not make plans your master;
If you judge distances - and not be too far off aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to see the tactics you have taken
Twisted by opponents to your woes,
Or watch the figurines you gave life to, shaken,
And stoop to build'em up with rally rolls:

If you can make one heap of all your troops (Guard and Line);
And risk them in one melee, one die-toss,
And lose, and start again at your base-line
And never breathe a swear-word about your loss;
If you can force your Foot and Gun and Horse
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing left in your force
except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with Magic-card players and keep your virtue,
Or walk with 7th Edition players - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor bungling partners can hurt you,
If the casualty count's with you, and not too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of fun,
Yours is the game and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Wargamer, my son!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Fog of War Versus Fun of Wargaming

Picking up on a idea mentioned in this post by Capt Arjun, I'd like to discuss the issue of recreating the perspective of a "real" commander.

The wargamer can see the whole battlefield. The real general can only see part of it - as technology increases, the modern general can see more than Alexander could, but it's important to note that what he sees is mediated. A general now, compared to say Wellington, can see about the same thing with his naked eyes. Everything else that the modern general (why do I always have to resist the urge to type "modern Major General" when I type that phrase?) gets to see is mediated - it's a report, a readout, a radar image, an air or satellite recon photo.

More often than not, it's a report: even though he has access to "raw" data (for example, a photo of a bombed out bridge) he is likely to base his decisions on the report processed and generated by his staff (in this case, the bomb damage assessment report). The important point here is that improvements in a general's ability to perceive the battlefield have been in terms of indirect, mediated access.

Even granting that this is an extension of his ability to receive input, it is nevertheless nothing compared to the birds-eye-view a wargamer enjoys of the table. The problems of hidden and plotted movement mean that most wargames still use a completely transparent movement and status system - you can see all units, and can usually see their status (rallied, suppressed, routing etc).

Realistic? No - to achieve that, we'd have to artificially limit the wargame player's ability to see. There are quite a few ways to do this - ranging from plotted hidden movement, to isolating the player in a different room and forcing him to receive only reports and issue only commands, with someone else on the other end effecting the actions. It's a black box we'd be putting the player in, in an attempt to recreate the black box that surrounds the general in real life.

And it's definitely not fun. We have a choice here between the Fog of War, and the Fun of Wargaming, and it's no wonder we choose the latter. Nobody likes informational Fog - real generals particularly, which is why so much technology is being introduced to try and increase information flow between soldiers, and between levels of command - soldiers would like to know without ambiguity where the enemy is, and where the friendlies are, and generals would like to know the status, without ambiguity, of each and every soldier, tank and asset, friendly and opposed. And generals most definitely don't like the Friction (to use Clauswitz's term) of war - they would love it if every order was understood with perfect intent, and executed to exact specifications and expectations. This doesn't happen, but the ideal is still there. Perfect information (the logic goes) leads to perfect decision-making, perfect information flow leads to perfect execution of intent. (one could argue that the genius of great commanders lies in being able to work with/around these limitations, more than in any particular insight or brilliance)

Wargamers have near-perfect information. Games are designed that way from the start - otherwise nobody would play them. A game that frustrates its players is a game that tends to stay on the shelf (wargames are a business, after all) and most players are firmly on the "Fun" axis - and even if not, at least aren't willing to venture so far out onto the limb of ultra-realism and uber-frustration. I don't have statistics, but I would hazard a guess that most of the "black box" rulesets that exist are home-made/specialised rules that were written by gamers (as opposed to published by a commerical wargames company) for a small group of like-minded individuals who do get primary satisfaction out of realism, and are willing to endure tedium, frustration, and heavy paper-work in return.

Attempts at compromise do exist - mechanisms and rulesets that try and create the effect of fog of war, without the heavy bean-counting paperwork. For example, a rule that forces a player to roll against incrementally higher odds to give successive orders to the same unit (think Warmaster) is trying, via a simple mechanism, to recreate a host of real-life events - soldier fatigue, disruption to plans, depreciation of equipment and capabilities, and degradation of command ability - all in one shot - i.e. what Clauswitz called "friction". Mechanisms like this are themselves a sort of short-cut - an attempt to model the signs and symptoms, without having to engage all the details.

Think about how one can attempt to measure the circumference of a circle by drawing polygons of an increasing number of sides: the larger the number of sides, the close one gets to the actual circumference, though never being exactly there. Sooner or later, one reaches a polygon whose number of sides is a manageble quantity, and by multiplying length of side x number of sides, reaches a good approximation of the circumference (yes, I know we could just 2 x Pi x r the whole thing, but stick with me here). This, in wargame terms, would be the "mechanism" - the command die roll mentioned earlier for example, that attempts to create an acceptable approximation, via the probability of simple die rolls, of what fog of war and friction could do on a battlefield. It's an attempt to reach a compromise between Fun and Fog/Friction.

An aside here: the one I've been involved in real military wargaming, i.e. with the military, the perspective was very different. Fun was never an issue - realism was everything. Computers and technicians were used to create an effective Black Box, commanders only being able to issue orders to them, and receive reports via radio. The whole thing ran in real-time - I could not begin to tell you how tedious it was. But it was realistic. After all, they do this for a living: we do this for recreation.

Which really brings me back to the point here: we do this as a recreation, not for re-creation (to use a bad pun). Fog of War is best left to the real battlefield, and Fun of Wargaming left on the wargames table. After all, if it stops becoming a recreational activity, then it'd be real work.

What is it good for?

As promised, a further look at fantasy and sci-fi wargaming.

Fantasy and sci-fi wargaming have often (if not always) been seen as the poorer cousin to ‘proper’ or historical wargaming. Now if the point of contention is that historical wargaming is backed up by history, which the former lacks, then there is no need for argument because all the arguments in the world is not going to make Starship Troopers or Middle Earth something which ‘actually did happen’. We can attack the accuracy of the history behind historical wargaming, but we cannot deny that however scant the evidence, history has more basis in reality than fiction.


My question then is this: are fantasy and sci-fi wargaming good for anything then? Are they good? In the context of this discussion let’s define something as good which does what it’s supposed to do. So a sweater that keeps you warm is good, a pen that writes is good, and a die that always rolls a six is good. (OK, the die is supposed to roll a six one time in six, but we all know we wouldn’t call it good.)

I believe that fantasy and sci-fi wargaming can be good, from a few points of view.

Good Gaming

As I have argued in a previous post, there is nothing intrinsic in a set of rules which makes it historical or not; historical wargaming rules are supposed to base their parameters on known facts from history or recreation, but this in it self does not always make a good game. Conversely, a set of wargaming rules can still be technically sound and interesting even if it is not based on history. On a more abstract level we have games like Mahjong and Go, and on a more military level we have games like Steve Jackson’s Ogre and Battlesuit. The latter games are not based on any historical occurrence, but have interesting premises and mechanics which are balanced enough to provide a challenge to the players.

The lack of historical basis does not mean a set of rules cannot be technically sound and tactically challenging to the players.

Good Fun

robartes called wargaming a 'figurine-mediated shared illusion'. The subject of the illusion is a matter of taste, and certainly dedicated fans of a fantasy or sci-fi background like Middle Earth or star Trek will enjoy a shared illusion based on their favourite background. (Of course, the Trekkies would prefer to have a Holodeck, but we can’t all have what we want, can we?)

Given a sound set of rules, and a set of agreed parameters regarding the world which is the subject of the game, there is no reason why players in a fantasy or sci-fi wargame would not (or should not) have as much fun as historical wargamers.

Good Simulation

Perhaps the least relevant angle, and more applicable to sci-fi wargaming than fantasy wargaming. Now even though sci-fi deals predominantly with the future (and occasionally a galaxy far, far away and a long time ago…), the genre usually has to be more grounded in reality than fantasy wargaming does, in that science as we know it today forms a large part of the genre.

If the science behind a set of sci-fi rules are sound, and the rules themselves sound, then it may be argued that the games played using these rules may in fact have a predictive value in the outcome of future combat using the systems described in the game.

Take for example we postulate that in the near future we can develop body armour that is practically impervious to all modern small-arms but yet lightweight and thin enough to feel no different from the current battledress uniforms. To investigate the effect of such armour on combat we can take a set of modern rules which is acknowledged as good, and simply apply a higher ‘save’ factor for the side possessing the armour, while letting the players’ responses account for the morale impact of such protection/difficulty in causing damage to the opponent.

So if you leave aside the fact that ‘it didn’t actually happen’, there really isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with fantasy or sci-fi wargames.

Yet it is undeniable that a certain perceived divide exists between the two genres. I myself play both but must confess to feeling that historical wargaming is a higher form of pursuit, even if I cannot give any reasons as to why.


Perhaps we can look at this issue in another post?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

How many hats can fit on the head of a wargamer?

I have a small collection of wargames magazines which I never throw away and have re-read many times over the years. One particular article is this one from Volume 29 of Historical Gamer (which I believe is now defunct) from all of 10 years ago, which I am surprised to find is actually available online.

In the article, the
author looked at the issue of simulating the general’s point of view in a wargame, and how this could be achieved with various command structures and mechanics.

Here’s a
post I made myself on our forum a couple of years ago on the issue, presented slightly retouched:

Another topic which brings out the wargame-theorist in the Napnuts. Believe me, I have difficulty deciding which side of the fence to be on.

Phil Barker wrote in the preface to DBA that the aim of a command system in wargames is the opposite of it's real-life counterpart - to prevent a general from moving his troops as he wants to rather than to facilitate it.

We enter another level on the discussion on realism. As mentioned in my previous post, there was a school of thought few years ago emphasising the 'commander's perspective' and the 3000-foot general is an oft-criticised entity.


In order for the game to be realistic, the player must only be allowed the scope of information and options and influence of his historical counterpart. However, this cannot be achieved for either skirmish-scale games nor grand-tactical games, short of a multi-level game where each player is part of a team and makes decisions only at his level. As it is, even as WW2 Division commanders we decide where the next barrage will fall, and as platoon commanders decide for Klaus whether he will shoot his K98 or throw a grenade this 15-second turn! That is not to say that it is impossible to implement this to a certain level - some rules have mechanisms which 'lock' a player out of minute decisions, so you will just be moving units around without being able to tell them what formation to be in, the classical example being DBA. However, even for a game as simplistic as DBA, the player still gets to decide which elements to use his PIP on, and even the order in which melees are resolved!

Now the second aspect of this is: is it desirable to implement control? While the wind-up toy model may be closer to reality, it's not my idea of a FUN game (yes, we return to the same few parameters here; surely those of you who have done Economics can come up with some suitable models?). As I mentioned in my Equation, Decision plays an important part of the wargaming process. Now the Decision bit can be a one-off event (like in bowling), or require a player's constant input (juggling), or somewhere in between (ping-pong and chess). Let's just say I can't juggle, I have only bowled once, and I used to play ping-pong and chess for my class (though not at the same time or on the same table). We should go bowling someday.

Whichever era, and whatever scale, the problem of commander's telepathy is an unavoidable one. And let's face it: you like the idea of toy-soldiers moving to your command.

In some of the WW2 games we've played which did not have hidden movement, it took good gamesmanship to not react to an unseen flanking force, radio or no. Now it is debatable whether or not a phalanx threatened from a flank (surely hoplite Lekoles is not going to ignore those cavalry on his left despite what the command is?) will turn to face the enemy. We can either roll a die, modified by the unit's training, initiative, and so on, or we can leave it to the player and save some time (provided he doesn't take fifteen minutes thinking about it!). The problem comes when the unit to the flank is some peltasts hidden in the woods. Then it becomes completely unrealistic for them to turn. Now as wahj mentioned, this is when a player who turns his phalanx gets verbally-bludgeoned by the others until he retracts his move. So far we have had relatively good success, especially with an umpire. Frankly, this is my favourite system, as I will never check another Napnut's map orders or his written orders, so it all comes down to an honour system anyway. Also, my favourite way to simulating sub-commander's initiative is to let another player take a wing and not influence his decision.

In any case, a written order/map order system with reaction tables for each encounter faced by each troop type only guarantee realism IF the system was sound in themselves. It doesn't matter than a set of rules say such and such would happen if such circumstances matched with such die-rolls. It's not realistic if the Nuts say it's not.

Unlike the rules for chess, wargame rules are not water-tight. That's why we like to have an umpire most times. Chess games do not need one, and football matches cannot do without one. If we can trust each other to play 'realistically', then we don't really need an order system. If we can't then no system will ensure fair play.

Er, actually, that's it. Despite the long preamble, my real point is the paragraph above. So let's all just get along, play cricket, and bash the guy who turns to face hidden ambushers, eh?

Confucius he says: where the wargame rules end, wargamer's honour, it must take over.

Monday, August 22, 2005

First paintwork for several years

Some will already know me as the gaming equivalent of the reservist.
A busy family life and 3 growing sons leave little time for me to pursue the hobby to the degree I'd like.
I regard myself and some of my armies as mothballed until I have more free time to put in.
In the meantime I watch new releases and attempt to remain abreast of rules developments.

I have assembled - amassed some might say - collections of almost 5000 plastic figures.
Lack of time means they are destined to languish in my loft for some time.
Approximately half represent the 2 sides in the American Civil War, the others are Russian and French Napoleonic forces from the year 1812.

Like many gamers, I am an avid collector of figures I don't need, and may never even activate.
I do have definite plans for these though.
I found a set of operational scale rules for Horse and Musket called LGG (Le Grand Guerre).
I seriously believe this is the first set which gives a realistic chance of playing out the big battles in a domestic situation.
(Of course it is possible to play Borodino using Napoleon's Battles given sufficient time, figures and like minded friends - though I suspect the whole thing would last many days and leave most participants feeling little satisfaction and with major headaches).

I have even toyed with using the bases of ACW figures on a large scale "Garden game" grid to play Battle Cry.

Anyway, on to the action and away from the hopeful thoughts.
I have been wondering for some time about how best to get Acrylic paint to stick to, and remain stuck to plastic figures.
I have collected various opinions from the internet. PVA undercoat appears to be the method of choice, with acrylic gesso and spray on mounting glue as alternatives.
Various top coats are also suggested, with a Woodland Scenics product promising a flexible and durable surface.
I believe the paint remains in place sandwiched between inner and outer layers.

Today I found a few spare hours to experiment and broke out the artship bought PVA.
My guinea pigs were a selection of union soldiers from the Battle Cry game.
The PVA went on OK from a number 11 brush. The process was rather slow, and I shall be gluing the figures to chop-sticks before starting bulk painting.
There appeared to be little difference in final effect between using watered PVA and full strength PVA.
In all cases, the PVA dried to a very thin layer with a satin type sheen.
The coated figures are readily distinghished from the uncoated ones as the uncoated ones are considerably more glossy - this may not be the case for all manufacturers plastics.
After applying the glue I was slightly worried as it collected in deep pools in the hollows of some figures.
I followed the instructions from a website suggesting to come back in 10 minutes and use a brush to soak out some of the pooled glue.
Once the figures were dry, there was no sign of the layer thickening in these hollows.
Indeed I was extremely pleased with the way detail was preserved on all the figures.

When I was nearly done, No 1 son appeared and asked what I was doing.
When I explained I was preparing to paint, he asked whether I could paint any of his soldiers.
He has some action figures and a couple of bags of army men types.
I then discovered that most of my prized miniatures paints had dried up - leaving me with 2 tubes of artists acrylic - black and white.
I set off painting boots, some helmet markings and some straps in black.
I then mixed what I considered a metallic grey for the machineguns.
By now the bug had bitten, so I started explaining the "Mickey mouse" pattern and attempted to reproduce it on some helmets.
I also mixed a lighter grey and demonstrated highlighting on the machineguns.

I spent about an hour painting, and found it quite relaxing.
I cannot see that I'll have opportunities for marathon sessions, so want to get a feel for what I can accomplish in an hour.
It remains to gather a working palette of colours for the armies and then to begin the painting.
The undercoating appears to be the slowest part, so I am hoping that my collection of size 11 brushes holds up.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Diversity in the hobby

I write in a month when anti-diversity campaigners have started to dominate newspaper letters pages in the UK.
In this case the subject is not wargaming, but a series of attacks on a strawman called multiculturalism.
If the anti-diversity letters are to be believed, it is multiculturalism which caused terrorist bombs to explode in London 5 weeks ago.

There is no doubt a portion of the British population who hark back to a "Good old days" which they fondly remember, and may still be preserved in the bar of their local golf club.
These individuals are frequently caricatured as Colonel Blimp characters.
The current trend has followed a rather more subtle form, which I expect emanates from media magnates who see time to stir some trouble.
(Be patient, I'm coming on to wargames - but the rhetorical device of our newspapers is for once sufficiently subtle to merit further reading).

A day or so after the London bombings, prime minister Blair - however you regared him as a politician, he has a gift for turning a growing mood into a headline phrase - made statements that we would not change our "Way of life" because of the bombers.
His subject was security measures following the bombing - and was intended to show that life would continue relatively normally. There would not be curfews, lockdowns on suspected areas, and the capital would not become a no-go area. Business as usual might have been used in its place, but sounds rather glib, and lacks the Churchillian graviats.

The old argument is that if we turn ourselves into a police state to defeat the bombers, then the bombers have won. I'm not sure it bears 100% analysis, as a British police state would seem to have few similarities with the Taliban paradise we are led to believe is the bombers' objective.

In a few days the anti-multiculturalists step in shooting down their own strange definition of multiculturalism.
Since then the letters have grown in stridency.
The enemy (they say) are peoples who don't share our "Way of life".
The sleight of tongue is clever if you listen only to the words.
Indeed it is an old political trick to associate a sinister difference with a group before wishing them harm.

In this case the target group are British Muslims, and the writers are non-specific about which aspects of our "Way of life" they fail to meet.
But I am concerned that such a large proportion of my countrymen are unable to distinguish between a way of life which respects individual freedom and conscience, and a way of life which says - do as I do or you are my enemy.

Well in true fashion, that went on for a very long time, and I apologise for the off topic nature.

I opened with it since I believe the same clash of opinions exists in gaming, wargaming or miniatures wargaming. You see we are so multicultural that we cannot even find a standard name for our hobby, or is it a passtime - I know for some it is a way of life - but let us not open that old chestnut again...

Ours is a relatively small hobby, though attending some shows, one is struck by the numbers there. The hobby is served by some medium sized (1000 > employees > 50) suppliers, and a huge number of smaller companies - most of which are amazing for their longevity.
The small numbers are immediately subdivided into many smaller subgroups: Period, Scale, Ruleset. Things come to a point where one is amazed that any gamer is able to locate an opponent with the same interests within travelling distance.

I know that there are certain scales, periods and rules which dominate the popularity stakes.
Ancients, Napoleonics and WW2 appear to be the top periods.
The situation with scales is more diverse, and when it comes to rules, the choice is almost unlimited.

The keyword I believe is tolerance.
In some areas, a local club is a focal point.
A newcomer can either join in with existing games and scales, or turn up with matched armies and see whether there are takers for someting new.
In less well supported areas, there are social groupings (Here I'd include the Napnuts) the social group differs from a club in being more private in its membership, and having less of a mission to expand.
In other areas there are individuals who get together to play as and when their lives permit.

I have met some hardliners in the hobby, who insist on playing only one period, with a favourite scale and a favourite set of rules.
Such people with such a prescriptive wargaming "way of life" are thankfully rare, as otherwise we would struggle for opponents.
Most gamers I know have their preferred periods, like the scales they own, and have an idea about their current favourite rules.
However they realise that flexibility is necessary in order to find opponents and regular games.
They also find it fun to experiment in different periods, and most are keen to look into new developments in scale and rules.
These people have determined that gaming is part of their "way of life", and select and vary their parameters of play according to their own preferences.

I have seen few attempts to impose a monolithic "Way of life" within an active wargames community.
The club campaign requires set parameters and rules - but this is no different to a tabletop game - it would make little sense if my opponent and I lined up our Napoleonic armies, and he then moved and fought according to the Shako rules and I used Empire.
Rules are restrictions are decided by mutual agreement.
The basis is usually decided by "What figures do we have, and what are we willing to acquire", "Which rules do we know and love" and finally "How frequently can we meet up to play out the battles".

I have however witnessed large manufacturers attempting to impose their monopoly of equipment and rules in their own sponsored events.
As I grow old my attitude to this has softened, as sponsors, it would be naive to expect a free ride from a company who has put a lot into organising such an event.
As a younger man, it irritated me to see boys (for this was the target audience) being herded like this - it was particularly painful to witness the exclusion of boys whose budget didn't stretch to the full army list.
I am delighted to report 4 conclusions from the closed tourament format.
1) Boys actually quite like being dictated to - provided they still have the cal on whether the dictator is OK or not by them (And boys have an extensive lexicon to describe the dictator when they turn against him/her/it).
2) The boys who couldn't assemble a proper army from the one true manufacturer did not become eternal pariahs, but were welcomed to the next non-sponsored as though nothing had happened.
3) The large sponsor which attempted to force standardisation is admired for some of its products, but generally reviled for some of its marketing ethics. 5 years on, their brand is not one of choice after the boys have grown up and discovered variety.
4) The hobby moves on, scales and rules come and go. Like society we mix and match in each new generation.

I believe this is a hobby which attracts the intelligent, creative and inquisitive.
We don't all score high on all 3 of the above, and there are a good many intelligent, creative and inquisitive gamers who are sadly lacking in other qualities.

I believe that the best way to ensure an exciting future for our hobby is to tolerate multiculturalism in period, scale, rules etc.
The greater variety of combinations on offer may reduce the odds of our running a long campaing of our exact preferences.
I believe however that the overall effect is to increase the chances of playing an enjoyable game.

Friday, August 19, 2005

More (war)game theory

First off, thanks to Arjun for inviting me to post on this blog.

Since there's a lot of heavy Wargames Theory at work here already, I'll just jump right in and add to the discussion Cpt Arjun has already started (since, reading the old thread on the forum, I realise I never contributed to this particular discussion!) .

The first thing I want to think about is whether the dichotomy of

game<----->simulation

holds true. If a game is defined as being "more concerned with fun" and a simulation as "more concerned with realism" (which should be held as distinct from "reproducing historical results": think about it) then the two are not mutually exclusive. In other words, it is possible to have fun because you like simulations, and this is not really a spectrum that we can position wargamers on.

In fact, we have to broaden the factors we consider, and think about a series of outcomes that wargamers look for in judging a wargame, such as:

fun (highly personal, and dependent on some/all of the factors following)

realism (less subjective, and pegged by some to known facts such as armour penetration tables, and by others to reproducing historical results)

historicity (also subjective: a mix of realism, detail, reproducing historical outcomes, and that vague thing called "atmosphere" or "mood")

and finally
mechanics (sometimes the mechanics of the game itself are what give us joy - a highly post-modern way of gaming)

and let's not forget
winning (for the intensely competitive gamers)

We can extend this further and try and map these factors to the common stereotypes of wargamers - i.e. each of these stereotypes is a wargamer who is dominantly concerned with one factor:

Rules Lawyers : Mechanics
Munchkins : Fun
Historical Wargamers : realism/historicity
...etc ...

There are probably other stereotypes out there, but I'll leave it to commenters to point those out.

If the main aim of a wargamer is to enjoy himself in a wargame, then the gamer's definition of fun determines how they will judge a game. A wargamer who derives most enjoyment out of good mechanics will judge a game by those: a wargamer who enjoys realism will be made happy when the 88 blows up the tank, and made unhappy when the psiloi rout the heavy infantry. A gamer who wants primarily to win will not enjoy any game, however perfect the rules or historical the game, if he loses. Finally, a wargamer who is happiest when the the game reproduces historical results will judge a game based on whether it does so.

As an aside here, games that are designed to reproduce historical results can be at odds with realism (by "games", I am thinking specifically of scenarios, although there are entire rulesets that are written to reproduce a specific scenario/event, e.g. a game centred around the Battle of Midway, rather than WW2 warfare in general). Realism is best achieved by consulting known facts - weapons penetration charts, effective ranges, speeds of vehicles, orders of battle etc. However, the most interesting battles (i.e. the ones that wargamers like to recreate) are often the ones that buck the trend - the ones where calculations of RCP (relative combat power) have indicated one side should lose, yet didn't. Games designed to mimic these outcomes have an inherent problem, and often have to get around it by introducing elements in the rules that contradict realism.

It's often the less quantifiable factors that are (retrospectively) listed as the cause - morale, better intel, coup d'oeil, or just plain old luck. These factors are often missing from the mechanics of the main game (because they make it less realistic) but are introduced selectively into scenarios (in order to replicate a known historical result). These factors are also harder to quantify - armour penetration tables are relatively less debatable than troop morale and quality, or Leadership.

I have my own doubts about attributing these factors as the cause of victories/defeats: most of them are attributed retroactively, by military historians, in an attempt to re-assert the calculability of warfare - i.e. when all the result defies all known calculations, rather than conclude that its pointless to pretend we can predict with any accuracy the outcome of battles and wars, we speculate that (previously) unknown factors were the cause. Each generation of historians trumps the previous by unearthing some new factor - "Wellington didn't win Waterloo because he was a good leader, but because Napoleon had piles" - or "Blitzkrieg, as described in theory, didn't occur in WW2" (as I've seen one book argue) - or "Nelson wasn't a brilliant tactician, he was a psychotic who happened to excel at sinking French ships" (which I've read, and pretty much agree with).

Returning to the original discussion, the last point I'll make in this post is that, stereotypes aside, wargamers have complex and multiple motivations: a wargamers pegged as a "fun"-focused wargamer is not always seeking fun, and not in all games. For example, I enjoy Crossfire partly for the Fun factor, but also because I'm (I'll admit it) enamoured with the whole initiative-based turn sequencing, which is an element of its mechanics. I like WAB partly because it allows me to roll buckets of dice - which means that I might still enjoy losing a game of WAB where another gamer might be intensely unhappy because it did not reproduce historical results, for example. This is probably the same for all gamers: we're not monolithic and unchanging, but flexible (or, if you will, fickle) and mutable in our expectations for each game. I think that games succeed or fail based on the attitude gamers take to them (see this
post), and this means that it's probably very difficult to be absolutely certain whether fun will be had by all at a game - just like it's hard to be absolutely certain of the outcome of a battle (though it's easier to state probabilities).

I'll stop now because I'm all theorised-out. (Hope Cpt Arjun awards me my Masters in Wargamer Theory! = )

Game, Simulation, or Me?

I'm pretty sure wargamers everywhere have found themselves discussing the eternal question of whether wargaming should be a game, a simulation, or both (and if both, how much of each aspect) at one time or another.

The Napnuts are no exception.

I reproduce (slightly edited) my take on the issue first presented on our forum:

Ooh, a chance for all to present their Masters of Wargaming dissertation! (Mmm... dessert... OR Mmm... desertion...)

Now Rick's statement illustrates the traditional view of the two being in opposing ends of a spectrum, with simulation being more concerned with accurate results, and game being more concerned with fun. I know which end of the spectrum I tend towards under this model - if I wanted accuracy I'd spend Sunday afternoons with a pair vernier calipers.

Now this is quite separate from complexity, since we all know complexity doesn't mean accuracy, and simplicity does not equal fun (see Napoleon's Battles and tic-tac-toe respectively; wow, it must be a dissertation when you quote references!). And it's not as simple as more measurements and statistics equaling simulation either. WRG Ancients rules used to be very concerned with scales and minute details of weapons and armour, but I doubt they provide an accurate simulation of what an ancients army commander faced (Hmm, must add 64 more men to my phalanx so they wouldn't suffer the 2 casualty-per-figure penalty from those Persian arrows).

Now I would say that all (reasonable) wargames are necessarily simulations, even if they are 'simulating' events which have not occurred, such as dino hunts and starship combat; in these cases they are simulating events under set parameters which are not necessarily 'true', much like the old QBasic Gorilla game where two gorillas threw explosive bananas at each other and you could vary the gravity working on them, or computer crash-test programmes. In either case, you don't want to be the guy in the impact zone. Tic-tac-toe, on the other hand, is probably pure game and no simulation. I think.

Now simulation implies a degree of accuracy. Me charging uphill against a simulated enemy simulates the effort it requires to charge up a hill quite accurately, but not so the risk of enemy fire. It is also not very fun. But I digress.

To recap, a wargame SHOULD (this being a value judgment question from the very beginning) be a FUN SIMULATION.

Next question (and perhaps the most important one) is: what to simulate?

Well, it depends on what you find fun. COMBAT is too vague as it encompasses too many facets.
A few years ago there was a school of thought that wargames should simulate only a commander's task and all other processes which would not be under his control should be 'locked out' to him. Well, most Napoleonic gamers playing Divisional Generals still make the choice of whether to load shot or cannister, and most players PREFER it that way! Some games require you to calculate armour penetration using cosine formula (but fortunately not with the aforementioned vernier calipers) - accurate but similar to an afternoon spent with the aforementioned vernier calipers to me. Still, wargamers are a varied bunch and the fact that such divergent rules exist mean that there is no one correct answer.

Or is there?

I posit that ultimately, the wargaming process can be summarised by the equation below (Equation? This MUST be PhD material!):

Decision -> Rules -> Result

The rules for each given game are a constant (unless it is published by Games Workshop). The decision part provides the FUN element, and the result part provides the SIMULATION. The whole process provides an afternoon's GAME.

Yes, it's that simple.

Arjun's Grand Unification Equation of Wargaming.

What each and every wargamer wants (other than winning) is to be able to make decisions over the units he is commanding to the end of influencing the result of the game. The rules are important insofar as they provide a framework to translate the decisions made by each player into results which both will find ACCURATE. The complexity of the rules may or may not count - this is why both DBA and WRG 6th Edition have their adherents. The rules should facilitate the whole process, rather than become the focus of the game, or wag the dog as it were.

By wanting simpler rules Rick does not necessary forfeit a game's accuracy. And by wanting more detailed rules Dom does not necessarily sacrifices a games fun element.

I think John Lennon summed it up best when he sang:

Whatever gets you through the night
It's alright
Alright.

Now where's my degree?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Don’t know much about histori(cal miniature wargaming)

I still haven’t got the article referred to in my previous post, but the post got me thinking: what defines ‘historical miniature wargaming’?

I must confess to being rather extreme in my view on this. To me, regardless of the different mechanics and intricacies of the rules, most games are about moving a dozen of so manoeuvre elements on a 6’ x 4’ or so table. Elements move in turn, project damage, or enter combat when they contact other elements.

If you really want to, you can reduce the whole thing into a ‘pure’ game by removing all ‘historical’ references and renaming the elements something neutral, like say Type-B or Class-2. Or even mahjong pieces. Think chess with the pieces not named after historical fighting units.

Instead of thinking: the 88mm gun has a 75% chance of scoring a penetrating hit on the frontal armour of the Sherman at this range, you think: Two-bamboo has 75% chance of removing Spring-flower at 6 inches distance. Not quite martial, but essentially you can play the game without any knowledge of the period involved. Just like you can play chess well without ever wondering why a castle can move, much less why it can jump over the king.

In other words, I believe there is nothing intrinsic in a set of rules that makes it ‘historical’.

The historical aspect comes from the players willing to project the illusion of ‘historicity’ over what is being played out on the tabletop.


Now while most of us will agree that a pistol shouldn’t be able to brew up a Tiger tank, arguments can go on and on about whether Polish Lancers should be able to break an infantry square if they came up to it from dead ground in a light drizzle and the sun behind them. Ultimately, to have a historical wargame, the players must compromise on a shared vision of a historical reality, or simply agree that they are playing a set of rules without regard to the reality it is supposed to represent. This shared vision does not of course always correspond to reality, but is at least based on a set of facts and parameters known or accepted by both players.

Which brings me to the next question: does that make historical wargamers so different from fantasy or sci-fi wargamers who base their game world on a set of widely known or accepted facts and parameters?

Well, have a look at this site while you think about that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Dude, where's my hobby?

Came across this entry on a wargaming blog. I probably should find the article referred to.

My train of thought, however, is more on the phrase 'my hobby'.

The wargaming hobby means different things to different wargamers. I will quite gladly admit that I do not consider all 'manifestations' of the hobby as equal; some rules or standard of painting/modelling/terrain-building I consider as superior to what I am doing, and some I consider inferior (stop sniggering, you lot!).

Despite that, I believe that it is every wargamer's hobby, regardless of whether you are a rivet-counting tank-modeller, or a play-straight-out-of-the-blister guy who has never touched brush to figure. What's more, I believe each wargamer makes the hobby what it is.

As a relatively small hobby, it is fair to say that the purchasing pattern of each and every gamer has an effect on the market. If all of us refuse to buy any tank model that has not got the precise historical number of rivers on the turret, that should surely spell the demise of many model companies.

On the other hand, if we didn't care about the quality of sculpting on a figure since we don't ever paint (or indeed base) figures, then companies that make superior sculpts at a higher price will go out of business.

In reality of our hobby probably spans both extremes, with most of us crowded in the middle in the shape of a bell curve, and most likely never giving a thought to where the peak will skew to in the future. I believe that each and everyone of us in our purchasing habits, our communication to other wargamers (either face-to-face at the local club, or in the form of forum posting, blogs, or review articles), and in the games we play do push the curve towards one end or the other.

So what does that mean to us as individual wargamers? My take is that whether you play with a few teenagers at a local level, or a major club putting up annual conventions, your buying habits and choice of rules directly influence your fellow gamers. And when they subsequently move on to form their own wargaming group, they carry with them part of this 'standard'. To put it in a twisted Darwinian way, as we pass our gaming preferences on to other gamers we exert a selection pressure on the hobby. The hobby evolves the way we make it.

Kinda makes you feel important, doesn't it?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Firsts

Well, good to see you've made it, Horatio.

I was wondering what topic to post on (the first lines are always the most difficult) but your comments about your first wargames gave me inspiration.

My very first real miniatures wargame was actually 20mm Airfix and ESCI plastic Napoleonics using the first edition
Napoleon's Battles rules. Talk about the deep end.

(The first set of miniature wargames rules I read was actually a copy of
WRG's 4th edition (?) Ancients rules; not that I understood them but the troop types descriptions and tables fascinated me.)

That was way back in 1990 or so, before the days of the internet. Information was hard to come by and the only connection with the wargaming world was through copies of
Miniature Wargames magazines from the local bookstore - as a schoolboy money was tight and a subscription was not viable then.

Games Workshop games were available then locally, if I recall correctly, but they were not as popular as they are now. Also, we wanted to play a historical miniatures wargame, and that was non-existent in the country as far as we could tell.

Armed with plastic figures, Tamiya acrylic paints and relying on an abridged version of Knontel's book as uniform guide, a few friends and I managed to paint up enough figures to play a few Peninsular battles.

Sure, the painting wasn't good by today's standards, and the terrain was nothing impressive, but we felt like we were pioneers. When I have played my first miniatures wargame, I realised that this beautiful hobby was not beyond me anymore.

Over the years improvements in communications and budget have enabled me to expand my collection of rules and figures, as well as connect with wargamers both overseas and at home. But thinking back, I don't think the feeling compares with the heady days of starting an obscure hobby with a few friends.

I wonder how many first posts are like this

Just signed up and found myself on a very nice looking front page with little clue how to make stuff appear, or indeed find out if there's already any content here.

The web can be like this sometimes.
It reminds me of the early days of MUDs where one would sign up and spend 30 minutes walking about the village square unable to do much at all.

I'm sure I'll get the hang of it in time.