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Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP22 Nov 2022 7:47 p.m. PST

I was reading some current professional wargame literature and there was a great deal of discussion of and concern about 'Black Swan' events (totally out of the blue) and exceptional or one-off events. I ran across this in some design notes from an older set of rules and was surprised the issue had been considered in game rules before today. Can you guess which rules or what decade the rules were written:

______has to be based on rules, and procedures have to be followed, and the procedures have to reflect what is likely to happen in certain circumstances. However, unlikely things do sometimes do happen, and if we are to make allowances for this in the game, we need a mechanism for exceptional circumstances, and this mechanism itself needs to be subject to its own rules if the game is not to degenerate into unpleasant and pointless disagreements.

To provide a hint, here is another portion of that same rules set:

In deciding the outcome of attacks between cavalry which do not involve other arms, the odds for equal leadership on both sides are based on:

Heavy or light cavalry?
Numbers involved?
Tactical formation?

I'll let folks guess for a few days before answering. I will say the rules are considered a classic.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP22 Nov 2022 10:19 p.m. PST

I estimate that information narrows the selection down to about 738 published rules sets, so it shouldn't take too long for this crowd to guess.

Is this reduncancy your own typo, or actually in the rules?

unlikely things do sometimes do happen
That might be a an especially big clue, unless it's just a misleading distraction.

Georg Buechner22 Nov 2022 11:25 p.m. PST

Empire ?

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP23 Nov 2022 1:53 a.m. PST

I'm struggling with this, because if this is from a set of playing rules it must be about tactical, tabletop 'black swan events'. Offhand, I can't think of any such events that changed the outcome of a battle in this era. I'm sure there are some, I'm just struggling to think of any.

I can think of campaign events: Cox's magazine blowing up at Almeida, the unexpected thaw in 1812 during the Retreat that meant a bridge had to be improvised at the Beresina, and so on.

The only vaguely battle-related ones that come to mind would be those where someone unexpectedly failed to turn up to the battle. Bernadotte's failure to turn up at either Jena or Auerstadt; D'Erlon's to turn up at either Ligny or QB – black swan events in the sense that they were completely unforeseen given the commanders could have reached either battlefield. If the randomness is low-level, of the "oops, I didn't expect to find artillery when I crossed that hedge" variety, then I'm not sure who'd put that into a modern ruleset; abstracting and making rules for that kinda kills the 'game'.

Anticipating low-level randomness does sound like the kind of skill you'd emphasise to would-be leaders, and likewise the effect of good leadership. So had I to guess, I'd say the rules cited here are probably Kriegsspiel, or something of that ilk?

Cavcmdr23 Nov 2022 3:04 a.m. PST

I would not expect to see a Black Swan on any of my tabletops!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP23 Nov 2022 3:46 a.m. PST

It sounds like Featherstone, but I wouldn't rate his Napoleonic rules as classic. Have to think and research beyong that.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP23 Nov 2022 4:25 a.m. PST

Reisswitz Kriegsspiel?

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP23 Nov 2022 5:43 a.m. PST


Whirlwind23 Nov 2022 6:05 a.m. PST

Kriegspiel I think

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP23 Nov 2022 7:59 a.m. PST

That extra 'do' in the quote is all me. The reason the events are called 'Black Swan' events is from the rarity of black swans showing up among the white ones.

And Congratulations! The quotes are from the 1828 Berlin modifications of Kriegspiel. I am continually amazed by how many wargame issues were identified and how many current tabletop conventions were created by von Reisswitz and the Berlin set of Prussian officers two hundred years ago.

advocate23 Nov 2022 8:16 a.m. PST

'Black Swan' events aren't to do with rarity as such. Black swans are common in Australia: they were a surprise to Europeans because they hadn't been there before. I guess the original inhabitants of Australia didn't think they were particularly unusual.
So a 'black swan' event is basically a 'change in the rules as understood previously' and the issue is how you react to the new situation.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP23 Nov 2022 9:12 a.m. PST


Good point/distinction. That is what current simulation and wargame designers are talking about, a "change in the rules as understood previously' and the issue is how you react to the new situation." The new situation being unexpected, changing the current situation significantly.

I was going to give our recent pandemic as an example, but it wasn't a 'Black Swan' event, but its possibility was known and even planned for in some arenas. Its effects on the culture weren't either expected, let alone planned for.

Robert le Diable28 Nov 2022 3:30 p.m. PST

For what it's worth, one example of Mediaeval logic involved an unseen Swan. A Student would be told that a Swan was outside the room (or perhaps in the Kitchen…), and asked what he could definitely say about this unseen Swan. He could not state definitively if it were male or female, old or young, even dead or alive; all that could be stated with certainty was that it was white. I think this instance persisted in European Universities until Europeans first came to Australia.

Murvihill29 Nov 2022 4:13 a.m. PST

That's what the chaos tables are for in lighter game rules. Roll snake eyes or boxcars, consult the chaos table…

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP29 Nov 2022 4:24 a.m. PST

I suppose the T-34 and KV-1 were "Black Swans" the first time the Germans encountered them in 1941. "It's a tank, Hans, but not as we know it." Certainly changed the rules.

I've long thought that Napoleon was the first to fully understand and exploit the new edition rule changes of the 1790s: the combo of improved drill movements, more manoeuvrable/accurate/destructive artillery, and some innovations in command and control. By 1815 everyone else had caught up.

Then you could see the whole of the next century as a series of step changes in technology and generals constantly having to adapt tactics and not always getting it right.

But those aren't tabletop "Black Swans" and surely aren't what the Kriegsspiel quote was talking about, are they? More likely it means the odd events that result in a formation being late or going to the wrong place or turning up unexpectedly, orders not getting through or being misunderstood, terrain surprises like an unknown ford or the furnace road at Chancellorsville or Gorgei escaping with a whole division through a disused mineshaft through a mountain in 1849 or a bridge being carried away, or someone having sent away all the ammunition reserve … lots of possibilities hard to cater for specifically but that can justify game mechanisms that introduce 'friction'.

Erzherzog Johann29 Nov 2022 6:38 p.m. PST

Where I live (in New Zealand), if I walk out my back gate I can guarantee within a few minutes I'll see at least a dozen black swans (but no white ones). They're very common where I live. They're smaller than mute swans, but still quite big – bigger than the even more common Canada geese. They're self introduced as far as I know. We used to have a really big, native flightless black swan, but it's been extinct for several hundred years, so a 'flightless black swan' event would be quiet something!


Trajanus01 Dec 2022 9:43 a.m. PST

even dead or alive

I thought that had something to do with a Cat!

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