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"Changing situations make games more interesting" Topic

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American Civil War
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1,161 hits since 7 Sep 2018
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ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2018 4:17 a.m. PST

I've done a blog post musing on how scenarios that include significant changes mid-game generate new situations and new decisions, make for more ebb and flow, and generally make games more interesting:

The blog post focuses on reinforcements and redeployments, but there are other possibilities too: changes in weather or visibility; changes in terrain (bridges being washed away, villages or forests catching fire, third-party arrivals such as civilians/refugees or herds of wildebeest); changes in orders from on high.

I'd be interested in others' comments on the importance of such things to making games entertaining, and on other possible factors that can change the tabletop situation.


Bloody Big BATTLES!

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Sep 2018 6:28 a.m. PST

I have a scenario where I add a new table half way through. Secure flanks are suddenly wide open, everyone has to change all their plans and turn on a dime. Great fun.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2018 7:28 a.m. PST

Those sound like fun for the GM. Fun for the players, maybe not so much, especially if someone feels the GM has snatched away a well-earned victory by piling on fresh handicaps.

I agree interest comes from decision-making and responding to changes in the situation, but I expect opponents to provide those changes. If they don't, I'm not big on forest fires as a solution.

donlowry07 Sep 2018 8:15 a.m. PST

I agree with Robert.

Rich Bliss07 Sep 2018 9:17 a.m. PST

I think changes are fine, if they are preplanned and at least hinted at in the briefing.

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Sep 2018 9:55 a.m. PST

In battle, how can a heavy rainstorm be "pre-planned?" In a game, yes, but depending on which kind of experience you wish, unexpected and otherwise uncontrollable events can be the perfect spice.

My own experience has most commonly been that a "pre-planned" surprise--particularly of a truly significant nature such as reinforcements, or the appearance of enemies where not previously expected--comes off heavy handedly. If the GM has over weighted his "suprise," it can simply guarantee someone's defeat no matter how well he might be doing otherwise, or just be a major nuisance that doesn't really add to the fun, just the confusion.

Of course, I am a major proponent of "Event Decks" which can allow for a wide range of developments which may or may not be significant due as much to their random timing as their details. Unlike Chance Tables, once drawn a card will not recur, while successive rolls of "12" with 2D6 can ruin an entire evening.

The key is not allowing the cards to dominate play. Only occasional draws from such a deck--perhaps only once or twice in the game--provide the uncertainty and suspense that are the greatest source of fun.

So much more to say on this subject, but then it begins to sound like advertising.


Oberlindes Sol LIC07 Sep 2018 10:40 a.m. PST

I think that the key to making a mid-game event work is perceived legitimacy -- otherwise, as noted above, it risks coming off as heavy-handed, or, worse, favoritism.

The best example of mid-game change that I experienced was in a scenario in which an assassination target was scheduled to drive through the table starting on a specified turn and in a specified direction.

One side ran the police and security forces protecting the route; one side ran the terrorists/freedom fighters trying to kill the target; and the referee ran the target and the civilians (some of whom may have been terrorists, and all of whom had to be checked by the police).

After several turns that included both normal police operations like checking upper floors of buildings for snipers, stopping civilians, and a couple of foot chases and firefights (and even a close assault, if I'm remembering the game), the referee announced that the target had moved up his schedule and was going to pass through the table next turn. Everyone was caught out of position.

We were all frustrated and challenged by the sudden change (except the referee, of course). Both sides' briefings had mentioned the mercurial nature of the target and his propensity for disregarding security advice ("because my people love me -- and because I will kill the entire extended families of anyone who does not").

So when the new arrival time was announced, we were a little bit primed for it and it felt believable. The fact that both sides were hampered in their efforts made it feel fair.

UshCha07 Sep 2018 12:17 p.m. PST

I agree with Robert.

If the scenario is challenging already and the players are already struggling to keep a plausible plan together then adding complication most certainly does not add to the enjoyment. Weather could add to the interest but the scenario must be more simple to start with to avoid an overload on the players as the situation changes.

This is one of the reasons event decks/programmed events are are to me a turn off, adding complexity beyond a certain level sends the game from possible a 2 paracetamol headache to much worse (to me normally nothing less than at least 1 paracetamol headache games are boring, more than 2 paracetamol and its no fun).

Fredloan07 Sep 2018 1:13 p.m. PST

The only mid scenario change I experienced, other than pre-planned reinforcement arrivals, was Liepzig. The GM had the Bavarians coming into the fight on turn 4, 5, or 6 depending on the die roll. Once the roll was successful and they entered there was another die roll to see which side they fought on. this we did not know until they entered the game.

All players knew the Bavarians would be coming at some point but, the last minute roll to see who they would support was not mentioned until they came on the table. I just happened to be the one in charge of the Bavarians and I did not know that twist.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2018 3:03 p.m. PST

I agree with nearly everything said here, both positive and negative. Excellent examples like the one by Oberlindes Sol LIC exist, but too often sudden changes in situation are just unpleasant disruptions to game balance.

The description of the Pered 1849 game sounds fun.

I've never liked random events, and generally dislike card-driven games because they over-rely on randomization of events. There are some sorts of randomization I can accept (e.g. weather changes in a campaign context). I've never been a big fan of off-table flank marche rules, I prefer to just make the table big enough to conduct them on-table so they become a part of the competitive player decision cycle.

Along the lines of changing situations, I've run several WWI Baltic naval scenarios where the players were all Germans, operating with an overwhelming preponderance of force, but incomplete knowledge and in poor visibility. Game play involves lots of unpleasant surprises: minefields, reefs, torpedo boats emerging from the mist at unpleasantly close ranges, looming shapes in the distance turning out to be neutral shipping, etc. I tell them at the beginning that victory is assured, but the goal is a clean victory with minimal losses, which is much harder. The intention isn't so much to hammer the players with ambushes as to emphasize the importance of planning, scouting, coordination, mutual support, and readiness for predictable surprises. To that extent, these games work, but I don't think many players would tolerate playing them often. I only run something like this every few years.

I much prefer to fight battles where the players determine the deployment and even choose the battlefield in real time, on the table. I used to run Fire & Fury games this way: the main forces start partially on the table at the head of parallel routes of march. I did these games on big tables (usu. 6'x10' or 6'x12') to provide maneuver room and good separation of starting forces, and I deliberately set up the approaches around all 4 edges to provoke some mixing of forces on the table and avoid the "two parallel lines meet in the middle" phenomenon. This resulted in the players deciding during the course of the battle what the important terrain features were, choosing the battlefield(s) from what they could see, managing their own approaches and deployments. There were no off-table ambushes, rather ambushes would result from lucky (or engineered) breakthroughs or flanking maneuvers on the table. I usually started with a small scouting force of each side in the middle reaches of the table almost at engagement ranges, so that right out of the gate, each C-in-C had to decide whether to order a holding action or a pull-back. I aprinkled little bits of influential terrain all over the table, because even as a GM I didn't know precisely what sectors would become important, and I wanted judicious player-generals to be able to exploit small features to conduct attacks or defenses as necessary. Most players found this style of game to be fun, everyone had lots of decisions to make, and the battles featured considerable ebb and flow. Sometimes a player's big charge turned into Pickett's Charge, sometimes it turned into Jackson routing Howard at Chancellorsville it comes down to player competence, mutual support, and force management, instead of random events arriving like a sucker punch from a die roll or card draw.

I've been following the games of the ATF in Minnesota because they play Napoleonic games in a very similar fashion: link

No random events, just a rich decision cycle and a lot of maneuver room. The players and their combat dicing provide all the randomization necessary, enough to make the same scenario work out differently each time it's played:

- Ix

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP08 Sep 2018 3:56 a.m. PST

Thanks for all the good and wise comments. In my OP I talked about the importance of new decisions, but I overlooked a critical factor: as players we need to feel that our decisions make a difference, that good ones will be rewarded and dumb ones punished. If our sound plans keep getting wrecked every other turn by random events or referee "gotchas", yes, that can get frustrating and the game feel pointless. Random events can add spice, but you can have too much of a good thing and ruin the recipe.

Of course the changes that happened in the Pered game were not entirely random, the chance of them happening was known, and indeed the players had some influence over whether they occurred at all. That seems to me to be a more desirable mix, and in our game it did make for good fun.

Anyway, I appreciate all the comments and insights. TMP at its best. :-) Thanks!


Prince Lupus08 Sep 2018 1:18 p.m. PST

I've run Waterloo a couple of times where Grouchy gets there before Blucher, always fun.

Mike the Analyst08 Sep 2018 1:36 p.m. PST

Chris, have you considered using a Matrix Game to help manage changes.

See link


and link

(Not the computer game series)

Lion in the Stars08 Sep 2018 6:02 p.m. PST

In battle, how can a heavy rainstorm be "pre-planned?" In a game, yes, but depending on which kind of experience you wish, unexpected and otherwise uncontrollable events can be the perfect spice.

"Heavy black clouds on the horizon"

I generally like random-event decks. Ambush Alley has you draw from the Fog of War deck any time a unit rolls a 1 on it's activation check. The Fog of War cards don't necessarily have to be played at once, and usually have a positive and a negative version. For example, one card is 'low on ammo', while the reverse 'well supplied' card is also in the deck. The opposing cards will cancel each other out.

But you need a longer game than what Infinity normally runs to have random events happen. Infinity games are normally 3 turns long, while Ambush Alley games usually run 6-10 turns.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP08 Sep 2018 7:05 p.m. PST

Infinity games are normally 3 turns long
Oh, the irony…

donlowry09 Sep 2018 9:18 a.m. PST


ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP09 Sep 2018 9:23 a.m. PST

"Chris, have you considered using a Matrix Game to help manage changes."

Mike, thanks for the suggestion. No, I hadn't. I'm familiar with the idea of matrix games, and they do have a certain intellectual appeal, but I don't think I'd want to use them for my regular week's gaming.


Lion in the Stars09 Sep 2018 5:25 p.m. PST

Heh. Infinity in the game's name comes from the Risk Code, Code Infinity situations are ones where you can have just about anything happen as a result, the most extreme example of the Chinese Curse ('May you live in interesting times').

Not from game length.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2018 5:28 a.m. PST

Sometimes it is enough to take a bit unit out of the box and set it on a nearby table… and say nothing to one side and tell the other side that it will never be used. ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Anytime, you do play these games, be SURE you have things written down explicity before hand so you can show the grippers that you are following a plan and not just screwing them up.

ToysnSoldiers10 Sep 2018 9:44 a.m. PST

Best gaming experience was a double blind kriegsspiel. I learnt the true meaning of fog of war. No surprises were needed. The normal chaos derivated from five players trying to make sense of what was happening under conditions of limited intelligence was enough.

Favourite anecdote: a Hussar squadron that was lost, moving back and forth while trying to find the place that it was supposed to scout; the opponent's player flanking column that gets a report along the lines 'Enemy cavalry to your front' and freezes, thinking that his column was about to be ambushed by an enemy brigade! The Hussars that never found their intended deployment area, so we finally decided to recall them; we didn't realize how close we have been to being flanked and caught with our pants down, but when finally the enemy decided to advance again we had moved away and their flank attack hit thin air.

The umpire had a lot of fun, the bastard.

AICUSV12 Sep 2018 1:56 p.m. PST

The most interesting "surprise" I experienced was during a Boxer Rebellion game. Each player represent a different Nationality and each had different victory conditions (not known to the other players). Half way through the game the Japanese player decided it was in his best interest to switch side and support the Boxers. These move was neither planned nor expected, it was something he decided would permit him to achieve his goals and prevent others from meeting thier's.

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