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


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! = )


Blogger fatgoblin said...

Why is there a stereotype mapped to fun (the degretorically sounding munchkins)? Is not the object of all gamers fun?

There seems to be these two concept of "fun". The shallow fun enjoyed by "muchkins" and the sophisticated fun enjoyed by the "rules layers" and "historical gamers".

The shallow one being one that can't be defined in a specific way that relies one knowledge or intelligence, such as historical literacy, ability to store in your noggin and access large amounts of rules or statistical analysis, etc. Its fun cause its fun kind of fun.

Maybe another way of seeing it is an emotional "fun" versus an intellectual "fun".

I suppose the word fun has a rather trival connotation to it.

I guess rules that are "more concerned with fun" has the fun component scripted into the rule. I believe this is usually done the same way as action movies; increasing excitment, wide swings in fortune, fast moving pace. (nicely painted dame miniatures a bonus!)

Whereas those that are "more concerned with realism/historical results" the player has to bring his own fun to the table.

My thoughts are all over the place so I won't be suprised if I ended up contridicting myself somewhere....

11:38 pm  
Blogger captain arjun said...

I think the distinguishing factor here is effort.

Games which require more effort, be it in background historical knowledge, or in study of the complex rules in order to play the game well, or which appear to have more effort put in in terms of terrain work or figure-painting, will more often than not be deemed to be 'superior'.

'Munchkin'(which I believe is a term to describe players who want to have fun at the expense of the other players, but for argument's sake I will continue to misuse) games are perceived to require little effort from the players, and so frowned upon.

In any case, it shouldn't affect the amount of fun you're having. We don't play wargames to please onlookers.

1:11 pm  
Blogger wahj said...

The assumption I'm making is that the objective of all game players is enjoyment. I suppose there might be a stigma attached to "fun" type of enjoyment (whiz bang gee whiz ker-pow) as opposed to the intellectual delight people are supposed to get from knowing that their game models the Tiger tank pefectly, down to turret turning speeds and reload times, but I don't really mean that. I think it's ok to enjoy a game for purely personal reasons - and these could range from the intellectual to the visceral ("Groo smash ... heh")

8:56 pm  

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