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"Is There No Real Skill In Wargaming?" Topic

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1,402 hits since 2 Oct 2017
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War Panda02 Oct 2017 5:57 a.m. PST

I posed the question earlier."What skills are required to be a good wargaming player?"

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The majority of answers read as playing a war game is primarily a social activity rather than a compeditive one:

For example: if I asked a suitable sporting group what makes a good soccer player I'm sure they would immediately list off a certain range of physical and mental attributes.

If I asked a group of chess players what makes a good chess player I'm sure I'd be given a definite criteria

But when I posed the same question to Wargamers about what makes one good at playing Wargames almost all the answers I received read as if I had asked what makes a good drinking buddy (For many of us perhaps the same thing😀)

I'm not critiquing the response (I actually think it's a very mature and positive way of viewing your hobby) but say for a newcomer to wargaming it might seem a little unchallenging that the hobby itself views the act of war-gaming as 'skillless and almost solely dependent of lucky die-rolls" and what's the point in that?

Is there no real tactical or intellectual skill involved or needed to become a good Wargame player?

ITALWARS02 Oct 2017 6:03 a.m. PST

for me..the principal skill…as in much other to dare to have a lateral thinking when making tactical decisions

cavcrazy02 Oct 2017 6:06 a.m. PST

I have always told people when describing wargaming that ,"it is like playing chess on a really large table, because much like chess you have to anticipate the moves of your opponent."
So yes, skill is required when wargaming.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 6:11 a.m. PST

Your original question isn't phrased well. It appears to have been interpreted as asking what personal characteristics you want in a fellow gamer, which is not the same as understanding weapons systems, the use of terrain and cover, the ability to tactically and/or strategically plan, etc. Like real life generals, some guys are great to hang out with but don't have any idea how to deploy assets.

wakenney02 Oct 2017 6:15 a.m. PST

Most wargames abstract out so much of the actual battlefield effects that any real tactics get lost. Some games still have enough subtlety to allow for tactics, but many of them really more on force selection than on battlefield tactics. Combine that with the element of luck that must be applied and for many games there is no skill needed.

Or maybe just enough skill to not miss an opening or opportunity.

rustymusket Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 6:22 a.m. PST

In my experience, a person who thoroughly learns and is able to apply the rules is better than a person who plays according to their understanding of the history, all else being equal. But either way, there is skill. It depends on what level of command you are looking at.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 6:23 a.m. PST

It depends on the wargame.

In developing my small unit rules, for example, players learn they have to plan in advance. Time to retreat? Better know that *before* things get desperate.

In Warhammer you better know your enemy's army lists in pretty good detail.

In DBA mastering that game's geometry is crucial.

So I'd say what makes a good wargamer is variable depending on the game played, much like the difference between chess and poker.

After all, if you ask about soccer, no one asks, what rules do you use? Do you use a 15mm ball, 25mm or something else?

War Panda02 Oct 2017 6:24 a.m. PST

"Your original question isn't phrased well."


War Panda02 Oct 2017 6:32 a.m. PST

"It depends on the wargame."

I would agree.

Personal logo aegiscg47 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 6:50 a.m. PST

As stated above, it depends upon the war-game and in some cases how well you know the rules. I have seen over the years, however, a trend towards war-games that do not need any skills or for that matter tactics. I remember back in the day playing games like Harpoon, Challenger, and others where tactics and knowledge of weapons systems really mattered. Recently, I've played several games such as Sails of Glory, Saga, etc., where I've won by not so much knowing tactics as having the right cards or dice symbols come up during play!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 7:02 a.m. PST

Hmm. I'd avoided the previous train wreck, too. I think there are some specific wargame-related skills.

One is the ability to read a set of rules and derive good tactics from them--or the related willingness to conduct enough practice or experimental games to find out what good tactics are in a particular set. Most of us just practice what we believe to be sound historical tactics and hope the rules agree with us.

Another is the ability to read a scenario and translate the scenario plus the rules into a winning battle plan. Again, it's common to just try to practice good tactics and hope the other fellow runs out of troops.

There are also--though not every wargamer needs these--

The ability to write a clear set of rules which reward sound historical tactics and punish bad historical tactics, while prohibiting things impossible in period.

And the ability to create a scenario which gives either side a roughly equal shot at victory without involving equal points and symmetrical terrain.

So there's four.

shaun from s and s models Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 7:11 a.m. PST

not in our club

WarWizard02 Oct 2017 7:16 a.m. PST

I think rustymusket nailed it.

Dynaman878902 Oct 2017 8:06 a.m. PST

This is a site where even the idea that we are trying to simulate combat in any way shape or form is not accepted as a fact. Without even that basis to start from the idea that there is skill involved is a non-starter of a discussion.

USAFpilot02 Oct 2017 8:17 a.m. PST

It depends on the wargame. Some rules are obvious beer and pretzel and are entirely based on luck; while other rules are written which require some skill. Any game which involves rolling dice or drawing cards will depend mostly on luck. You can analyze probabilities and given a large sampling, you can predict an outcome. But in your average wargame which only lasts a few turns with less than a hundred dice rolls, the outcome is rather random and based mostly on luck.

Dynaman878902 Oct 2017 8:22 a.m. PST

> Any game which involves rolling dice or drawing cards will depend mostly on luck

That would make Poker experts hard to explain.

Great War Ace Inactive Member02 Oct 2017 8:27 a.m. PST

Any game that produces a relative success rating, or winners and losers, requires a level of skill: unless it is utterly resolved by pure random chance, like pulling on a one-armed bandit.

Wargames as a genre include tactical decisions and nuances. The player who understands/appreciates the level of tactical decision making inherent in the particular set of rules will have an advantage over the players who merely push troops without thought and throw dice when told to.

USAFpilot02 Oct 2017 8:46 a.m. PST

Poker experts calculate probabilities and play thousands of hands. Probabilities are more accurate the larger the sampling. The problem with wargames is that the sample size is too small, so statistically the outcome is less predictable. Take flipping a coin for instance. You have a 50% chance of either a head or tail. If you conduct a series of tests you will find that with a low sampling the outcome variance is quite large. You increase the sample size and the outcome is more predictable. Flip 10 coins compared to flipping 100, or 1000, or a million. As the sample size increases you get closer to 50%. It all comes down to analyzing probabilities and statistics, but the outcome is less predictable given the smaller sampling. And that is one of the major problems with wargames.

VonTed02 Oct 2017 9:01 a.m. PST

Let us never forget…. we are grown men playing with toys.

PJ ONeill02 Oct 2017 9:09 a.m. PST

I had thought that this hobby looked kindly on tactics, timing and skill, but the recent trend of such games as Black Powder, where the number of "activations" you randomly roll for completely overpowers any skill, has me rethinking that.

Oberlindes Sol LIC02 Oct 2017 9:32 a.m. PST

The original post asked about both qualities and skills, and people answered about what they wanted to talk about.

Tacitus02 Oct 2017 9:33 a.m. PST

Good Lord, if no skill is needed to win a war game, then I must have negative skill.

pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 9:36 a.m. PST

I think the Black Powder or the Fire and Fury method of activating units is a way to simulate the chaos of war. So just as a general must overcome the many frictions that occur, so must a wargame player.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 10:12 a.m. PST

pzivh43, for me, they cross a line. No, you needn't and shouldn't have complete control. That would also be unhistorical. But when a good die roll or card draw becomes more important than tactical finesse, you're entering the state USAFpilot describes.

Most wargames--well, most wargames I'm willing to play on a regular basis--are not that bad. Bad luck at a critical moment might lose you a close game, but luck won't get you close against a more skilled opponent.

I'll stand by what I've said elsewhere. If three or four good or bad die rolls decide a game, there's something wrong with the rules or the scenario. Of course, sometimes there IS something wrong with one or the other.

rmaker02 Oct 2017 10:38 a.m. PST

I don't think the OP's comparison to chess players is valid. Chess is a fixed system with a single set of rules and a given scenario. Wargaming is not. It's like asking what makes a good card player as opposed to what makes a good contract bridge player.

Personal logo Morning Scout Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 10:53 a.m. PST

"If three or four good or bad die rolls decide a game, there's something wrong with the rules or the scenario."

Robert could you give examples that illustrate your statement. No judgement, just cannot seem be able to apply it to anything specific.

Dynaman878902 Oct 2017 11:11 a.m. PST

Most famous example I can remember is the 2-1 (1-1?) attack on Tobruk in the game of the same name from Avalon Hill. It all boiled down to that one die roll from what I hear. Never played it so can't say for sure.

Another case is a number of ASL scenarios (or any game with one big unit) where a single bad DR will knock the unit out of the game.

No example comes to mind but a number of games have lots of rolls BUT the first combat is important enough that losing it sets up a pattern that would take extreme luck to balance out – due to the losses from that first fight unbalancing the forces so that the odds change from there on out.

pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 11:47 a.m. PST

Well, can't say I disagree with you re 4 or 5 good/bad die roll statement. I haven't played a lot of Black Powder, so I can't dispute much on that rules set.

But have played a lot of Fire & Fury, and it doesn't seem to me that it hinges on a few die rolls. Unless you let it by poor tactics. YMMV.

Personal logo sillypoint Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 11:59 a.m. PST

There are skills in Wargaming. As there are skills in sport. However, skills required in golf, are different to skills required in motocross.
Skills required in chess…👍🏼rmaker
Anyway across several war games there are players who will outplay you, they may not win, but they understand what troops need to be in what position.

USAFpilot02 Oct 2017 12:24 p.m. PST

There are definitely skills involved in war gaming as well as luck. I think some rule designers like to add elements of what is called 'fog and friction' of warfare which increases the randomness and chaos of your game. IMHO this is not needed as the simple fact of rolling dice provide that level of 'fog'. With dice, nothing becomes certain and it gives the possibility of unlikely outcomes.

A skilled player will most likely win over a novice. But two skilled players who both know the nuances of the rules; it becomes mostly about luck.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 12:45 p.m. PST

Scout, I've seen a few. In scenarios, the consistent offenders are rolling for the arrival of reinforcements and rolling to see when a bridge will be ready for demolition. I am not saying there should not be an element of chance in these things, but I've seen games in which the difference between a good and a bad die result was overwhelmingly more important than tactical play. Nothing you did with your troops could make up for your bad die roll or an opponent's good one.
I played in one years ago where naval support was similar. The firepower was overwhelming unless the shore battery rolled a certain number, in which case it all went away. The game designer said it was a balanced game because there was an even chance my side would have the naval support for long enough to win or the other side would leave us totally without the needed support. So the game was balanced: it just had nothing to do with our tactical decisions.

In rules, the worst offenders are "activation" rolls and their twins, the PIP die roll in DBA-type games. In Napoleon's Battles, three bad command die rolls in a row can frequently decide a game--and by "bad" I mean 6 or less on a D10--pretty easy to do. And how many DBA armies can survive three ones in a row, which is not difficult? I understand "Black Powder" has the opposite problem, in which two or three good die casts can grant an overwhelming advantage--but since wargames are zero sum, that amounts to the same thing.

Understand, I'm not particularly good--OK, I'm no good at all--at NB. But I heard an experienced player sum up one of my debacles by saying "you had superior force at the right place: you just rolled low on the die roll." And that's it: THE die roll. "Cold dice" are a part of wargaming, and arguably a part of military history. But when a single bad throw shifts the result from probable victory to certain defeat, I think the rules have to accept some of the responsibility.

I approve of randomness. I just want the results to be in a range which keeps them less important than tactics.

Personal logo Morning Scout Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 1:09 p.m. PST

Robert, could you provide examples of rules that you feel fall into the acceptable range who have given?

evilgong02 Oct 2017 5:24 p.m. PST

When I umpired DBM competitions I sometimes used a seeded first round draw, that required me to seed the field. Ie make a call on how I thought the players would be ranked at the end of the event.

Mostly I could get the top 8 of 25-35 players right and in rough order 90% of the time.

I knew who the good players were, who were the newbies and middle-rankers.

Having a 6-round event with Swiss style draw helped.

What did the good players do?

They organised their armies efficiently (making the right element choices, and then into commands) that recognised the troops' capacity and imagined a role for them.

They could guess / determine how their opponent might orgnaise their army and how they might deploy it on the given terrain. Having made that guess the good players would deploy to maximise an advantage.

Good players would guess / determine where the other guy might attempt to manoeuvre to and counter this.

Perhaps peculiar the DBM, good players would use PIPs efficiently and not waste them in their goal to drive the army to where it needed to go.

Again in DBM, troop match-ups are important, so good players drive their troops to get the match-ups needed. Players who know the system knew that x number of poor troops might be a match for y number of better troops and so on.

Good players could manage table space for time, to delay on one flank while winning the game somewhere else.

In DBM players can influence combats by how they decide the order of computation. Mostly the optimum sequence of computing conflicts is obvious, but there was a risk / reward trade-off.

A high risk / high reward might be attempted if you needed to push your luck for a particular objective or you might lower the risk and grind out a localised victory over a few bounds – good players would see when to change gears on such things.


David F Brown

Great War Ace Inactive Member02 Oct 2017 5:26 p.m. PST

Winning comes down to morale in most cases. And no matter how complex or simple your morale system, the final result is a single event that can destroy all of your tactics. When one side routs the battle is usually over. Our ancmed rules are very dependent on morale rolls as the make or break in battle. So the key to winning more often than losing is to make the other side roll for morale before you have to. And that depends on tactical finesse. Causing casualties before the enemy can do likewise is what causes morale tests.

UshCha02 Oct 2017 11:50 p.m. PST

Our own game is demanding. You need to know the rules, the performance and tactics used by the weapon systems involved in the real world. On top of that you need to be able to plan under stress and modify that plan only when it most definitely has gone wrong.

As to us, we also wrote the rules. In the course of doing so I have learnt to spell, not just rely on the auto correct and my opponent has been accused by his boss, of improved writing skills. Not bad for somethging you do for fun.

However many games are not designed in reality, to those demending specifications. The rules are mades sufficiently random to allow a more levele playing field in winning. However many (of which I don't count myself) are as interested in the skill of modelling, the wargame being more a means to display their modelling skill than complex play. If they class as wargamers then they are very skilled in art terms.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2017 2:28 a.m. PST

Scout, I have played only the tiniest fraction of wargame rules. None of the traditional tactical horse and musket rules have that particular problem--Grant, Young, Featherstone CLS. Neither does TSATF or TMWWBK, and I've been impressed with Mersey's rules generally. I've never seen it in a card draw activation system like OTR. The DB series of course does: it's the price paid for very fast games. But the problem diminishes with larger games like DBM (I think) and "big battle" DBA. Again, there are many rules--probably good ones--I've never played.

I'd say the things to watch out for in rules are a single die roll to determine how many units can move, or whether a substantial section of the army can move, and a single die cast combat resolution system in a game with, say, 20 or fewer units per side.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2017 3:17 a.m. PST

Wargaming definitely requires skill.

If only in learning the rules, as some games have a steep learning curve or have features that need to be explored in depth.

You need to understand how the game functions and it can help a lot to know how the mechanisms impact the game. Usually mathematics and statistics come into play.

Sometimes you need real life skills to implement in the game, or conversely you need to ignore what seems logical to you and figure out the game system and its choices.

You need a feel for the scale of the game. Does it have a huge number of elements, many of which are disposable ? Or does it have a limited number of elements, losing one of them being potentially critical ?

How is the game structured ? Is it a puzzle about trying to move elements in such a way you get a undeniable advantage all in one area ? Or is it about having an overview of the situation and applying elements where necessary and managing your units the right way becomes essential.

Even preparation can be wildly different. Is it a simple matter of setting up elements with fixed value or does a huge amount of work go into creating these elements and all their special features ?

One of the best examples of how skill influences a game is a buddy of mine who is an absolute genius at figuring out ways to move counters in a board wargame in such a way that he will always find a better solution than anything us mere mortals would be able to, but put him in front of a real time simulation without any mathematical factors and he's completely lost. He simply cannot grasp how units move, fight and defeat each other without the crutch of geometry and mathematics. He does understand the various concepts, but he is very good at applying them in certain ways, and not at all in other ways.

So yeah, skill definitely plays a part in Wargaming as a whole. Even if a game is heavily rigged in favour of chance, there are ways to overcome this by figuring out how to figure chance into your winning strategy.

Russ Lockwood09 Oct 2017 10:24 a.m. PST

In rules, the worst offenders are "activation" rolls

I agree with that. To me, maneuver makes for an interesting wargame. Lack of movement causes a game to grind to a halt. Random movement ala Black Powder/Hail Caesar presents the worst of all movement mechanics -- makes no sense to me as a gamer to have a unit move normal, then halt one turn, then race three times its normal movement distance, or visa versa in any combination, depending on your die toss.

Plus, if you roll bad enough (boxcars?), then you really enter random movement with another d6 toss that can have your individual unit (or brigade if you rolled once for all units in a brigade) turning 90 degrees for no reason other than a die roll.

I'll add in Fire & Fury to the die roll for movement category as well, although it grants a half move for not-so-bad die rolls and refrains from the 2x and 3x movement extremes -- although the new Brigade rules adds a 33% bonus for good die rolls.

I'm also inclined to add in Fields of Glory's roll for "complex" moves -- never sure what that is supposed to represent: If you make the roll, you perform the move. If not, you can still perform a "simple" move.

Much depends on the time frame. If your turn represents 30 seconds or a minute, then delays might occur. Once you stretch it out to 15-20 minutes or a half hour per turn, to me, random activation/movement becomes even less useful. I suppose it might also applies to unit size -- the smaller the unit, the greater likelihood of delay.

As for pips in DBx, in our annual "War of the Roses tournament" to become king, we allow players to choose to roll either a typical d6, or, an average die (d6 with 2,3,3,4,4,5 instead of 1,2,3,4,5,6). The average die flattens the extremes. We also always give the general a free move each turn with as many attached units as he wants (as long as they stay attached and in the same position after movement). Even if you roll a 1 on a typical die, you get that pip and another for the general. With an average die, you get a minimum of 3 pips -- enough to do most things that you want to do.

I'm inclined to allow units to move as they want within a command radius of their commander -- knowing that the radius is an artificial mechanic to encourage players not to send individual units helter-skelter all over the battlefield.

Beyond the radius, roll some sort of morale roll for half movement. Note that in more recent games, the unit outside the radius moves half, but with a morale roll to move full.

To me, if I have an evening to game, I don't want to spend a third of my game turns twiddling my thumbs by die roll. I can dawdle and second guess my moves with the best (er, worst?) of them. I want to spend my time figuring out how to hit the enemy firstest with the mostest while obtaining or defending objectives laid out by the C-in-C. There's enough missile, melee, and morale die rolls to insert fate into any battleplan, you don't need to grind a game to a halt with random movement die rolls.

Personal logo capncarp Supporting Member of TMP13 Oct 2017 10:09 p.m. PST

Von Ted:"Let us never forget…. we are grown men playing with toys."

Orrrrr….are we grown men being played with by toys?

RudyNelson16 Oct 2017 7:37 a.m. PST

IMHO it depends on the era and rules being played.
In an aviation game, your skill at flying will certainly help you stay aloft, even if your firing dice are weak.
The same can be said for ship actions. Your ability to manueuer a ship if a great benefit to winning.

Land combat tactics is good and solid results but a poor general can be offset by the 'power' armies in rules where the abilities of the troops is more important than those of the commander.

christot Inactive Member22 Oct 2017 9:53 a.m. PST

is there skill? least there ARE "good" (as in successful) players, and some which are not as "good".
I've played a LOT of multi-player, large games over the years, often annual events, usually lasting at least a weekend, and many (30? more, probably), week long games.
None of these have been tournaments, they have all been campaign games, so not competitive.
Most of these see a core of regular attendees turning up every year. It is very clear after just a couple of campaigns which of these players is a safe pair of hands, who is extremely competent and who is utterly hopeless –
Why? Dunno….I guess there are players who, quite simply, have intellectual advantages over others, better/faster at numbers, better at predicting moves and outcomes 2 or more moves in advance, simply understand how a set of rules actually work, know the best tactics to use with whatever troops are at their disposal.
Dice rolling is rarely (if ever) going to overturn a strong player versus a weak one. It may, occasionally, mean the weaker player has a moment of glory during the game, but simply by virtue of being a strong player, that player will usually have a recovery plan, and at worst, escape with a draw.
If the rules you are playing can be decided by a couple of poor/good dice rolls, then I would suggest they are pretty poor rules.

Ottoathome Inactive Member29 Oct 2017 6:19 a.m. PST

All the skill required to play war games is the hand-eye coordination to pick up a die and drop it. Other than that it's being able to complain and argue till you get your own way.

Real skill in war games is knowing how to make sure your fellow gamers are having a good time.

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