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Thursday, 28 April 2011

Perspectives on Gaming: the General's View

All war games are different. However, most of them use familiar systems to provide the player with control over their forces- rules for movement, ranged combat, close quarters, the mental state of the warriors they command and so on. Although the specific rules, and even the assumptions, within these systems differ, it provides a framework so that games can reflect the strategy and tactics of warfare (at whatever scale.)

As players in these games, we are lucky. We usually have full awareness and complete control (within set restrictions) with only the vagaries of luck to throw a spanner in the works. Also, our soldiers are significantly more effective than was historically the case. How many of your games have ended with a casualty count above 15%? If warfare was actually that lethal to the men of a nation, then it would be a universal crime. And mankind would be extinct.

I've been thinking about three specific aspects of this recently: Fog of War, Command and Control, and Lethality. First, some definitions:

Fog of War:

Units in most games have full tactical awareness. They know that enemy are the other side of the wood, and what they're equipped with. If you have read the opponents army book or list, then they also know how effective the enemy will be on a set, percentile scale. Similarly, we as players have full strategic and tactical awareness of the enemy forces, and can enforce our will upon the units at our command.

Command and Control:

Straight from the Wikipedia article above:

The DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines it as "[t]he exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission. Command and control functions are performed through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities, and procedures employed by a commander in planning, directing, coordinating, and controlling forces and operations in the accomplishment of the mission. Also called C2."

Take a look at the list of requirements. Personnel, equipment, comms, hardware- that's a lot of things that could go wrong. Yet, in most games, they never will- there is no chance of troops failing to react as their commander intended. There is another factor that isn't mentioned- time. In Sci-fi games or modern warfare games, time is less of a factor, thanks to rapid communication devices (radios and satellite uplinks,) however how long would it have taken a runner to take orders from the general to the relevant officer, for that officer to then communicate those orders to his command. Would those orders still be relevant by then?


If you scroll down the article above, there is a table for "Wars ranked by total deaths." Take a look at those numbers, Now think of all the war games you have ever played, and all the Fantasy/ Sci-fi books you've read over the years that involve some kind of combat. (Black Library) How many times do you consider the sheer, horrific nature of the game you just played (if you just answered "all the time" with a smile, can I suggest this?) Relating back to Fog of War, we also know how many of the enemy die to each attack, so can tactically re-evaluate moment by moment.

Is it Important?

When all is said and done, different games provide different experiences. Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 and Lord of the Rings do not try to be representative of real-world conflict. Other games try to reflect one or two of the above (Warmaster, BattleLore, Blitzkreig-Commander.) If anyone is aware of a game which tries to cover all three- please let me know! 

To introduce rules that try to reflect these would probably change game balance. Perhaps more importantly, they would more than likely slow down game play- and a lot of time and effort has been spent by Games Workshop, Privateer Press and others to speed things up. Delving into the history of various games, we have had the following:

Hidden Deployment. Everything from drawing maps of troop deployments to putting a giant screen across the battlefield (I have many fond memories of Titan Legions and Space Marine.)

Hidden Troops. Various rule sets allow troops to be "hidden"- from tokens which mean that the player should ignore the enemy unit, to writing down where the unit is hiding and revealing them under specific conditions.

Issuing orders: from tokens with a few options, to defining specific parameters (Rogue Trader Robots, anyone?) Almost forgot the Psychology method, where units can only act if they successfully receive an order.

Games Masters: Giving control of all movements and rolls to one person, while both players sit in different rooms and just receive updates, has probably been the purest method for representing Fog, Control and Casualty issues. However, it requires a huge amount of organisation, dedication and trust between players. oh, and you could play a computer game online nowadays.

Auto-break: Having scenarios which mean that players lose when a set number of casualties have been inflicted. Note that if you set this at a historically reasonable level (say, 30%) then most games will be over in minutes.

Closing Thoughts.

I wonder whether introducing rules for these situations would improve the games I'm playing? They would certainly encourage a different style of game play. One idea I read a little while ago, which I still haven't had a chance to use, is to only remove casualties when a rank of men dies. Imagine this in Warhammer- you've reduced the rear rank of that Clanrat unit to 1 man, but you can't tell- so do they still have a full Combat Resolution? Are they still stubborn if you beat them?

All of a sudden, those tactical decisions can become just a little bit more difficult and uncertain- which really appeals to me. The idea that I don't know everything about the enemy makes the game a lot more interesting. It's for this reason I won't look at my opponents army list until after the game- cunning tricks and equipment choices are all part of the game for me.

So what do you, out there, in the community think? Is this all unnecessary over-thinking? Has anyone got ideas on how to implement them into existing games?

Thoughts and comments, as always, are welcome

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