Friday, August 19, 2005

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

Now where's my degree?


Blogger domgoh said...

You misquoth me. I do not necessarily want more detailed rules per se, but a rule set that recreates the historical flavour of the period reasonably well. It is a very subjective thing ultimately.

5:47 am  

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