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"How absurd is Sharp Practice?" Topic


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Action Log

10 Aug 2018 5:11 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Crossposted to Game Design board


1,218 hits since 9 Aug 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP09 Aug 2018 9:49 p.m. PST

"Whenever I teach someone new to play Sharp Practice, he or she is generally set back by what they perceive to be a lack of control. There is the card activation, which makes it impossible to predict which unit will be activated next. There is also the "Tiffin" card, which ends the turn, often without all units being activated. Then there is uncontrolled fire, which can lead to units blazing away even if you want them to move. And finally there are the random events, causing sometimes funny but often annoying things to happen.

At that point at the latest they start to ask if this isn't a bit too much surely the designer overdid it, introducing crazy stuff just for the laugh?…."
Main page
link


Amicalement
Armand

jdginaz09 Aug 2018 11:39 p.m. PST

Well written.

Spooner610 Aug 2018 1:19 a.m. PST

It is totally absurd and not enough absurd at the same time. You actually can control the randomness. Fewer maneuver groups the easier. I think they have a good compromise with the ability to order groups/formations with one card after the Tiffin card. Sure they are not 100% effective but 80-90% effectively is better than naught. Having said that, those that don't like it are not wrong as this is a game and personal preference does play a factor.

Chris

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP10 Aug 2018 1:59 a.m. PST

The whole thing is splensid, forces you to use officers properly to comland, not jut shout, shoot and charge. The fire at will at nothing, does not last long, and a "turn" is at best a few minutes.
Compared with rhe real thing they probably already are too much in control, doing nothing or what you want, but not whatv"they want" when oit of control.

Nick B10 Aug 2018 3:16 a.m. PST

Great piece of work. I opened it with some trepidation, being a TFL fan, but was surprised to find an exellent analysis of why the rules really do represent the confusion of the battlefield and the command issues it presents – with historical examples from ACW.

Great stuff!

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP10 Aug 2018 4:18 a.m. PST

I've never played Sharp Practice, so I have to ask: how frequently do these random event cards pop up in the course of a typical game? The article shows that weird things do, in fact, happen in war. But with an entire war to look at, it's not surprising that you can find examples like that. But how likely is even one such incident in a single game? To say nothing of multiple such events in a single game. A common flaw in wargame rules is to model in extraordinary events from history and then see them happen routinely in almost every game.

Private Matter10 Aug 2018 5:01 a.m. PST

ScottWashburn I do agree that all too often wargaming rules do try to make the extraordinary ordinary. However, Sharp Practice and a few other rules out there try to model the confusion of small unit command. There is a very real reason why one of Murphy's Laws is that No operational order survives first contact. The battlefield has always been a case of who is the luckiest (granted skill, training, and good command capabilities has a tendency to influence how lucky you are). Sharp Practice does use some pretty silly random events, such as your leader slipping on cow dung or the like, but replace this with stumbling over uneven ground or ducking from a near miss, and you have something very plausible. There are some folks on this site that can tell you from first hand experience that when the excrement impacts the atmospheric oscillator confusion reigns supreme. Command & Control is more often ability of command to maintain a semblance of control. Rules such as Sharp Practice place a heavy emphasis on commanders which, in my humble opinion, is one of the most important factors in small unit warfare. In short, random events that impact the ability to command or influence a portion of the fight are not extraordinary but are actually to be expected and a good commander can adapt quickly (hopefully provided he's not wiping cow tunic from his splendidly tailored tunic)

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP10 Aug 2018 5:14 a.m. PST

Private Matter, looked at in that fashion I have to agree with you. As a Civil War reenactment battalion commander I've certainly seen a lot of absurd things happen over the years. I'll never forget where at one especially hot event my battalion was put in a reserve position with assurances that it would be at least 45 minutes before we would be sent forward. There was a small creek flowing along just behind us and I let my men break ranks and go over to the creek to cool off. Just a few minutes later a courier rode up with orders that we were needed on the line immediately! I looked back at my battalion and was horrified to see that half of them were literally naked in the creek! I told the courier: "We'll be there, but it may take a while." :) Friction, indeed!

Decebalus10 Aug 2018 5:40 a.m. PST

I am more with Frank Chadwick, who has argued in his design notes for VnB, that good commanders would overcome friction. That is my problem with all the rules with random friction. It is random and the better general/player is harmed the same way than the poorer one. – But i dont know SP, so maybe that is solved in the game.

Aethelflaeda was framed10 Aug 2018 6:35 a.m. PST

I love friction/fog of war in games as simulations and often find there is not enough of it to be realistic (ostensibly so one could even play the game in a reasonable period of time. A good player must plan for the friction (its called a reserve) to win. (It also gives a weaker player a lucky break now and then, and a something to blame with when their plan is inadequate.)

I think some players who prefer more chess like command and control might well miss the point. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. It's a different skill set. Coup d'oeill is the best skill any commander could have, knowing how to have tools in reserve is as important as knowing how to use the tool..

As Napoleon once said, "I don't care if he is a good general, I want to know if he is lucky."

Private Matter10 Aug 2018 6:41 a.m. PST

ScottWashburn – that's funny

Decebalus – I wouldn't agree that good commanders 'overcome' friction in the traditional sense. I would think they know how to work with friction, how to adapt to sudden unexpected events, etc. On a large scale game such as Volley & Bayonet friction on the battlefield is represented differently and more abstracted thereby perhaps permitting the appearance of a good commander overcoming friction. I know this is semantics but I think skirmish games are a completely different animal when it comes representing Friction. In a skirmish level game friction is much more 'personal' and directly impactful on the commander in the thick of things. In my opinion, very few skirmish games represent this well. The TFL skirmish games do a good job in my opinion, as does Force on Force for the most part.

StCrispin10 Aug 2018 6:54 a.m. PST

I love the activation system. My issue with it is that units end up blasting away at each other for turn after turn before anything decisive happens. A skirmish game that takes 2 or more hours doesn't work for me. Has anyone else run into this? Has anyone tried halving the number of shock required to drive units back and such?

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP10 Aug 2018 7:47 a.m. PST

While you have to look at the probability that something would happen, you must also account for sampling, what I call the "Marlin Perkins Effect".

Mutual of Omaha sponsored a nature show in the 70's hosted by Marlin Perkins. You got to see some good video of animal behaviour in the wild. But only a subset of it. You saw a lion stalk, pounce, and eat a gazelle. You didn't see the same lion taking a nap all day in the sun for three or four days in a row until it got hungry again.

Why didn't MoOWK show that part? Because nobody cares. It's not interesting to watch that part.

Likewise, we don't wargame the parts of warfare where people sat around and prepped for something or stood watch all night and no engagements happened. We also don't game all the action. There are tons of battles in the wars we game that are covered in history with the sentence "XXX marched into YYY and took the city against minimal resistance."

We only game battles that have exciting and interesting dynamics. The outliers. The ones where we expect extraordinary things to happen.

That said, (not having played SP), every officer shouldn't take a pratfall twice per battle. But I also don't have a problem with outlier events happening in outlier circumstances.

PrivateSnafu10 Aug 2018 9:17 a.m. PST

Devout wargamer "…friction is fun and models real world action."

Dutiful game designer "Well turn it up to 11."

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP10 Aug 2018 10:43 a.m. PST

Glad you enjoyed it my friends!. (smile)

Amicalement
Armand

Tony S10 Aug 2018 1:34 p.m. PST

It is random and the better general/player is harmed the same way than the poorer one

Ah, but they're not. If they are handed the same random effect, it is not as detrimental to the better player/general. There are many ways to overcome friction, or at least mitigate it.

Keep reserves to counter the unforeseen. Don't commit your off table troops too early. Make sure your capable officers are in a good position to influence the troops if it is a critical area of the battle. Always evaluate your actions – if your opponent suddenly seizes the initiative, how bad would it be after that action?

I get what you're saying Decebalus. I don't like games that are entirely random, and without any input from me. Playing Snakes and Ladders is pointless. Poker is also random – but good players will outperform bad ones.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP10 Aug 2018 7:47 p.m. PST

From reading the articles,the issue with Sharp Practice, pro or con, isn't about whether there 'should' be friction if modeling combat or not. It is about how much friction should occur in a game and the amount of control a player does or doesn't have. Is it 'realistic' or absurd [extreme and unrealistic.]

Friction is fun--for many wargamers, and others not so much. It is what the designer wants to provide the players in the way of a game experience. Certainly some amount of realism can be one of those things.

The question is 'how much' is realistic… or too much?

Richard C. in his article provides Clausewitz quotes regarding friction that are among my favorites:

"In war everything is uncertain, and calculations have to be made with variable quantities."

'variable quantities' i.e. how much?

"Friction is the ONLY concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper."

Sounds kinda of important if representing 'real war' is a design goal.

thomalley10 Aug 2018 8:42 p.m. PST

Careful now, there is already a 5 page discussion on friction over on the WWII board.

jdginaz11 Aug 2018 12:08 a.m. PST

Sigh, well this was a good thread but now I see it going down hill form here.

ToysnSoldiers11 Aug 2018 9:36 a.m. PST

I like friction in my games. What I dislike is giving stupid names to otherwise perfectly reasonable game mechanics. Sharp Practice is one of my favorite rulesets. However, it irks me when I read AARs and the officers and places are given idiotic, when not slightly xenophobic, names. I don't get British humor.

Trajanus11 Aug 2018 10:03 a.m. PST

pro or con, isn't about whether there 'should' be friction if modeling combat or not. It is about how much friction should occur in a game and the amount of control a player does or doesn't have. Is it 'realistic' or absurd [extreme and unrealistic.

It's also how the friction is delivered.

For example, in "Longstreet" the delivery via not having the right game cards at the right time is one source acting against a players control but the addition of the opponent being able to introduce friction by their own hand of cards, ultimately undermines the game.

Being able to retain cards and use their advantages against your opponent becomes a skill in itself and the historical nature of the friction they are based on is undermined by the ability of the player to deploy them at a time of their choosing.

Quaama11 Aug 2018 11:34 a.m. PST

As Napoleon once said, "I don't care if he is a good general, I want to know if he is lucky."

I regret to advise that I don't think he ever said that: see TMP Link for a brief discussion on that quote.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP11 Aug 2018 5:22 p.m. PST

I regret to advise that I don't think he ever said that: see TMP Link for a brief discussion on that quote.

The quote was probably started by a mediocre French general who had been very lucky.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Aug 2018 4:37 a.m. PST

Being able to retain cards and use their advantages against your opponent becomes a skill in itself and the historical nature of the friction they are based on is undermined by the ability of the player to deploy them at a time of their choosing.

I have no idea how many hundreds (thousands?) of hours I have spent learning about, teaching, planning, and executing military operations designed to make an enemy defeat themselves. Being able to do that in real life is a skill in itself.

Trajanus12 Aug 2018 8:16 a.m. PST

Planning and executing Military Operations I understand.

A representation of two or more Civil War Battalions facing off over an open field generally has less possibilities for the enemy to screw up.

A card played to increase the chance of damage by shooting, countered by one giving the target protection of thick smoke. Followed up by a counter card of one played to increase the chance of damage by shooting on the recipient of the smoke, is the kind of thing I'm talking about.

Oh and yes, I do except this not the custom on every player's turn, in case other "Longtreet" players are reading this.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2018 11:45 a.m. PST

US commander in the China-Burma-India Theatre during the Second World War General Joseph Stilwell summed up the impact of friction upon a commander's job, commenting
(Glick, S. P. & Charters, L. I. (1983). "War, Games, and Military History." Journal of Contemporary History. 18 (4) p.567-582. (1983)

"(The) Principal load (of a commanding general) is standing disappointment and upsetting of plans. Everything conspires against him; dumb execution, weather, breakdowns,misunderstandings, deliberate obstructions, jealousies, etc. (He) must be prepared to accept fifty per cent results in twice the time calculated .

Note that the general says 'be prepared to accept', not that it will happen that way all the time. They are random events, unpredictable in both kind and number. Of course, he is speaking from a position of commanding tens of thousands of men, hence tens of thousands of possible friction events. That isn't necessarily so at the scale of Sharp Practice.

Some game designers seem to take that 50% prediction at face value. The designer of Grand Piquet wrote:

What we gamers often times forget, is that every order has as much chance of being misinterpreted, not followed, or not delivered, as it had being executed properly.

Can you imagine an army where only half of all orders were actually carried out 'properly'? Wouldn't military men be aware of such poor odds and do something about it?

An individual's experience of friction/random events will always be particular to them and the unusual will always stand out. We don't remember the 50 die rolls that gave us the expected results, we remember the one die roll that was against the odds or granted success at a critical juncture in the game.

The question for the game designer is how to provide that experience with an aggregate of all military units' general experience of Friction, the kind and frequency of such events… even though to the players they will remain unpredictable.

And also note that Stilwell is talking about HIS army, his organization's behavior, not the enemy's influence. Friction as Clausewitz envisioned it was all the things that go wonky in one's own army.

I agree with Trajanus. However fun such uses of cards are in games like Longstreet, they are at best an uneven portrayal of friction for the players. While I know that Sharp Practice uses cards differently in representing Friction, I can't really comment because, though I have the rules, I haven't played them yet.

jdginaz12 Aug 2018 11:51 a.m. PST

Note that the general says 'be prepared to accept', not that it will happen that way all the time.

More likely be prepared because it WILL happen.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2018 11:57 a.m. PST

More likely be prepared because it WILL happen.

More likely or just occasionally? For a game design, you can't use such vague references. It will come down to Friction being represented by specific odds, chance and probability, whether that is Chain of Command or Sharp Practice.

Anyone can do the math on the exact probabilities those games provide in the way of friction randomly occurring.. The question was and is, how close to reality are those probabilities? 1 in 6, 3 in 6, 5 in 6? Each roll will be be random and unpredictable for the players beyond a one through six result… Even the classic Avalon Hill CRT had negative results for 2-1 and 3-1 odds.

Ponder Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2018 2:21 p.m. PST

Howdy,

A: Are you familiar with Murphy's Law?

B: Yes, Whatever can do wrong, will go wrong.

A: Are you familar with Cole's Law?

B: Scratches head, No.

A: Cole Slaw – Shredded Cabbage with mayonnaise, a bit of vinegar, and seasoned to taste.

Ponder on,

JAS

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2018 2:51 p.m. PST

A: Are you familiar with Murphy's Law?
B: Yes, Whatever can do wrong, will go wrong.

C: Are you familiar with Boyd's corollary?
D: If you don't care where you are, you ain't lost.

Fortunately, laws are made to be broken [Enough with the clever sayings already.]

If whatever can [do?]go wrong, will go wrong, D-Day should have been an unmitigated disaster, the Allies scampering back to England in thousands of sinking ships.

jdginaz12 Aug 2018 9:48 p.m. PST

At Omaha pretty much every thing that could have gone wrong did but fortunately they were able to over come the friction and prevailed.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2018 7:13 a.m. PST

At Omaha pretty much every thing that could have gone wrong did but fortunately they were able to over come the friction and prevailed

'Pretty much everything? So everything, or not everything? How much is that? That is 'pretty much' one beach out of five, so a one out of five chance for 'pretty much'?

"Pretty much", "likely", and "occasionally" isn't very useful in designing a wargame like Sharp Practice which attempts to model friction nor make much sense of any criticisms that the result is 'absurd.'

jdginaz13 Aug 2018 1:37 p.m. PST

Worked well enough for Rich designing both Sharpe Practice and Chain of Command.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2018 3:15 p.m. PST

Worked well enough for Rich designing both Sharpe Practice and Chain of Command.

Does that mean you agree with the mathematical formula in the system that creates friction and it's frequency. That isn't a criticism of those rules sets or the article which highlighted examples of friction. It is a question of:

What constitutes 'well enough?' considering the question was whether or not at least Sharpe Practice's portrayal was 'absurd'. Compared to what?

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