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"How can a wargame be realistic?" Topic


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TacticalPainter0109 Jul 2023 2:19 p.m. PST

Some thoughts and reflections on the nature of 'realism' in table top wargames after many decades of gaming both in miniature and with board games. I think we all have strong opinions on this so I've no doubt others will differ in their levels of agreement with my thoughts. The full article is here How can a wargame be realistic?

picture

Fred Mills09 Jul 2023 2:51 p.m. PST

Great article, TacPainter. Very thoughtful.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP09 Jul 2023 4:45 p.m. PST

Well done, sir.

Oberlindes Sol LIC Supporting Member of TMP09 Jul 2023 7:58 p.m. PST

Great article

UshCha09 Jul 2023 9:45 p.m. PST

Well to be honest it lacked quite a lot of understanding. Many sets of data are statistical, so some form of proababalistic analysis is essential as this matches the type of data available. His trivulisation of why we throw a die, and that it is a bit "unrealistic" is a bit pathetic it is what is required.

Marking a tank when destroyed is a realistic rffect espacially if you see the turret blown off.

Perhaps because he sells models he fails to address that a massive improvement can be made by use of even limited removal of figures/models to add to the fog of war.

He too rapidly to my mind decends into art vs reality. Where are ther minima for representing realistic terrain vs "wargame Terrain"? Where is basic portrayal of the real world coverd with repect to mapping of terrain and its limitations, often woefull missing in many systems. Whre is the Lack of realism by having equal sides addressed?

To be honest it was a lack luster portrayal of simulation, it's objecetives and limitations and what and where those limitations can be minimised, they can never be eliminated.

TacticalPainter0110 Jul 2023 12:06 a.m. PST

Well to be honest it lacked quite a lot of understanding. Many sets of data are statistical, so some form of proababalistic analysis is essential as this matches the type of data available. His trivulisation of why we throw a die, and that it is a bit "unrealistic" is a bit pathetic it is what is required.

Marking a tank when destroyed is a realistic rffect espacially if you see the turret blown off.

Perhaps because he sells models he fails to address that a massive improvement can be made by use of even limited removal of figures/models to add to the fog of war.

He too rapidly to my mind decends into art vs reality. Where are ther minima for representing realistic terrain vs "wargame Terrain"? Where is basic portrayal of the real world coverd with repect to mapping of terrain and its limitations, often woefull missing in many systems. Whre is the Lack of realism by having equal sides addressed?

To be honest it was a lack luster portrayal of simulation, it's objecetives and limitations and what and where those limitations can be minimised, they can never be eliminated.

Hmmmm, are you responding to the article? I'm a bit confused by your reply and had trouble understanding what your point is.

As an aside, I don't sell models, so I have no idea what you are referring to here which makes me wonder whether you are actually referring to the article I wrote.

Something Wicked10 Jul 2023 12:48 a.m. PST

As Sabin himself points out, there are differences between military wargames and recreational wargames. Not least in interpretation of outcomes.

bobm195910 Jul 2023 2:03 a.m. PST

I think games should be aiming for "convincing" rather than "realistic".

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP10 Jul 2023 3:24 a.m. PST

First to have any idea, one needs to be well read on the subject. Opinions or habits are not valid.

Personal logo FlyXwire Supporting Member of TMP10 Jul 2023 4:37 a.m. PST

I think it's pretty simple it's all about decision-making.

The first decision with historical wargaming, is deciding if you want to play games about it.

Certainly, militaries have and do use wargaming to improve decision-making. They're not deciding to play games to entertain their troops and officers (that's where military training and doing a wargame hobby part ways).

So decision-making can occur on our hobby table-tops, or in a board game, maybe interfacing with a computer screen, or in the case of physical wargaming, in/on an actual field exercise.

BOBM1958 above said it succinctly enough, what's your threshold that the decision-making is convincing enough for you to engage in it?

Back to the hobby of wargaming, one needs never paint a figure, model terrain, organize a collection, etc. to be an historical wargamer all one needs to decide is that they care to engage in a decision to play a historical wargame. If someone feels they need to paint really good, or make great-looking terrain, or have a certain set of rules to "convince" themselves to engage in decision-making over a wargame tabletop, then that's their personal threshold for joining or continuing in this hobby.

The bottom line (if you're not just playing games by yourself), is that we need to convince others that our games about decision-making would be a good decision for them to consider. After all, it's a voluntary hobby, not usually a career, or because they're training to be a warfighter, etc. I don't have a list of book assignments required for someone to sit down at one of my games.

Something Wicked10 Jul 2023 4:50 a.m. PST

JcFrog

"First to have any idea, one needs to be well read on the subject."

One assuredly does not. Any more than one needs to be well read in real estate law to play Monopoly.

It's called wargaming for a reason, and like all games demands a suspension of disbelief.

If one can't employ one's imagination, one may as well not bother. Or join the military.

advocate10 Jul 2023 5:39 a.m. PST

Something Wicked, that's pretty absolutist. People have different levels of disbelief (I saw a twitter comment by someone for who time-travel in Indiana Jones was a step too far!). Some games are just that, with a war theme (chess, I'm looking at you). Others get closer to an experience, if not of war, then maybe of Command.

Personal logo FlyXwire Supporting Member of TMP10 Jul 2023 6:26 a.m. PST

The last paragraph of the article discusses the variance of human reactions, and how responses can be complex.

Agree, and then no set of wargame rules should ever be expected to actually predicate human reaction either, but some do (well OK, that's some designer's take, so take it or leave it).

However, are rules-assigned reactions being somehow inferred to as players making their own, independent Command decisions? (ref. Advocate above)

This has me…..confused. On one hand, human behavior is complex, even unpredictable, so why not let players make their choices, and reap the rewards or consequences of being in command. Chances are, as complex humans, that will be reflected in-game just fine.

blank frank10 Jul 2023 8:17 a.m. PST

You cover a lot in your article. But I think one simple thing which can be done in WW2 games to make them more realistic or convincing is use hidden movement be it with blinds/ markers or better still make use of an umpire. I was told about a game umpired by Bish Iwasko (Z.M.Iwasko). When a player was told he had hit a tank with an AT round he asked if it was destroyed? He was told the tank had stopped moving! This game would have been in the late 60's. Nowadays folks want to see all their models on the table.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Jul 2023 9:17 a.m. PST

A well thought-out article. I'd hedge just a little on the "it must be useful since the military does it" argument. Any activity carried out by a large powerful organization is congenial to the upper levels of management. Whether the activity advances the ostensible goal of the organization is another matter altogether.

Cynical? ME??

Mark 110 Jul 2023 9:36 a.m. PST

I think the discussion of "realistic" versus "not realistic" would be better phrased in terms of "detailed" versus "abstracted".

From the article:

There is nothing in the action of rolling dice and placing markers that in any way resembles the impact of an armour piercing round on an armoured vehicle and its occupants. So while the rules accurately reflect the likelihood of the anti-tank round damaging the tank and produces a plausible outcome that aligns with our reading of actual events, the process by which we replicate that on the table in miniature is anything but realistic.

If I am the commander of a company of infantry with a section of attached anti-tank guns, I know exactly nothing about the impact my 2nd gun's 57mm AP round had on the occupants of a Pz IVh. It is 100% unrealistic to presume I would. What I know is that both the 1st and 2nd guns fired, and one of the two shots achieved a hit, and now I can see smoke coming out of the vehicle. Maybe (maybe) I can judge whether the smoke is coming from the turret, or the front of the tank (fighting compartment) versus the back of the tank (engine compartment). If I see fire, or the turret fly off, I can see that and judge that the tank is destroyed. If I see crewmen bailing out I'll get some idea of how injured they were. Otherwise all I know is we got a hit and some smoke is visible.

Mobius, a sometimes contributor to these fora, publishes a set of rules call PanzerWar that provide a magnificent level of detail for those who want to know if the round struck the upper hull side (above the running gear), penetrated into the engine or the fighting compartments, and if any of the crew members were disabled.

I played several games with the rules. They felt very satisfying for a tank-nerd (like me), as I could see in my games the differences between a T-34m41 facing a Pz IIIJ firing PzGr39 ammunition versus a T-34m42/43 facing a Pz IIIL firing PzGr40 ammunition. But I could not see the impact of maneuver at the battalion level, because the game was too detailed.

Now I play MeinPanzer (from ODGW). The tank-vs-tank action is MUCH more abstracted. I don't know if I hit the upper or lower hull side or the turret -- I only know I hit the side of the tank. I don't know how many crewmen were injured, only if the tank is a mobility kill, a firepower kill, or is destroyed. But I can reasonably push a company of tanks with a platoon of infantry or scout vehicles or TDs attached (or a battalion of tanks similarly re-enforced if Soviets) or a company of infantry with an AT gun section or tank platoon attached. And the game flows smoothly enough that 2 or 3 gamers per team can move battalions of tanks or infantry around the game table in reasonable blocks of time.

One game addresses the view of Sgt. Rock getting the critical hit that turns the tide of battle, while the other addresses the decision to place Sgt. Whomever at the point that turned out to be at critical, and he was effective in ensuring the success or failure of the battalion's mission.

They are different levels of abstraction, not different levels of realism.

At least that's my experience.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Blutarski10 Jul 2023 12:47 p.m. PST

The most important paragraph in the article.

What is much harder to measure and assess is human activity which introduces more unreliable and complex sets of actions. While we can calculate the likelihood of an AP round piercing a tank's armour it is much harder to put a fixed response to the way the crew will react to being shot at by such a powerful weapon. Other more variable factors come into play like bravery, experience, training and fear. What we do know is that the response is likely to differ, with a myriad of factors coming into play at any one time. In fact the one thing we probably know for sure is that the response won't be mechanical, it is far more likely to be emotional. In other words we can't predict with certainty what the reaction will be other than to say it will vary with individuals and in different ways at different times. While it won't be entirely random it will be harder to predict. I think most of us would agree that to assign an identical response by all humans in response to a similar event is unrealistic.

B

Personal logo FlyXwire Supporting Member of TMP10 Jul 2023 12:48 p.m. PST

"And the game flows smoothly enough that 2 or 3 gamers per team can move battalions of tanks or infantry around the game table in reasonable blocks of time."

I take your point on abstraction vs. realism Mark, I think there might be a simpler explanation at work, and you touch on it here in this sentence above "for 2 or 3 gamers per team".

There's a whole generation of gamers and game rules that never consider a player team, the games favored lack a means for playing an actual chain of command. There's no player team expected, the designs are for one player per side (and they might be designed to be played completely solo in fact) where have all the humans around the tables gone, replaced by clever AI?

It's sort of hard to see unpredictable human behavior at work when you're the only one controlling your "army'. It can also become very predictable when you're playing a single opponent, or against the same buddy all the time too.

Is it realistic to play historical wargames as an army of 1?

How many popular game rules could meet the muster if this fact is used to judge about historical accuracy, realism, or human dynamics?

Maybe wargaming involves more realistic goals, than to claims about realism (to me there's a lot more to be emphasized).

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Jul 2023 2:20 p.m. PST

"Is it realistic to play historical wargames as an army of 1?"

Depends a lot on period and level, and where the emphasis of the rules is. And there's another sort of realism--that of keeping the game's demands within the resources available. Give me back the 12 Napoleonics players PER SIDE I once gamed with, and I'll be happy to have three levels of command. These days, I'm happy to have a single opponent--when I do have one.

Find enough historical miniatures players within gaming range of one another, and I bet they solve the big game multiple command levels problem without any outside help.

TacticalPainter0110 Jul 2023 3:00 p.m. PST

The last paragraph of the article discusses the variance of human reactions, and how responses can be complex.

Agree, and then no set of wargame rules should ever be expected to actually predicate human reaction either, but some do (well OK, that's some designer's take, so take it or leave it).

However, are rules-assigned reactions being somehow inferred to as players making their own, independent Command decisions? (ref. Advocate above)

This has me…..confused. On one hand, human behavior is complex, even unpredictable, so why not let players make their choices, and reap the rewards or consequences of being in command. Chances are, as complex humans, that will be reflected in-game just fine.

I think this can apply on two levels.

Within the game mechanics there are opportunities to reflect human responses as not entirely predictable. The most common being some form of mechanic for morale or test. Normally calculated as a combination of factors related to casualties, training, leadership etc and combined with a method for determining that element of the unknown or unpredictable in human behaviour (a roll of the dice or card draw).

The second, as you point out, is with the players themselves. I've watched a player's personal morale rise and fall in the course of a game. I've seen it have an impact on the table and the way the game is played and decisions are made.

Personal logo McKinstry Supporting Member of TMP Fezian10 Jul 2023 4:17 p.m. PST

I enjoyed the article. Thank you.

Personal logo FlyXwire Supporting Member of TMP10 Jul 2023 4:53 p.m. PST

Robert, you're certainly allowed to play the way you can (that's the big tent philosophy wargaming has always hoped it could present). We're still trying to enjoy a smaller niche hobby than when you and me grew up gaming, and probably more importantly now is that we don't scare the youngsters away these days, despite our abundant wrinkles and thinning grey hair.

TP, we've just about always had game mechanics for combat results in our rules, right?, and/or for subsequent morale test too. There's a common through-put with this simple but effective design approach, a combat cause, and a direct effect. Each ruleset's design might not always involve intricate/dense variables, but gamers can understand why something they've risked might have become damaged goods. It comes down to demonstrating risk and reward for the player decision-making.

As a long time game judge, I complement players who take personal responsibility for their game actions, and for owning their command decisions. They made them at least.

Like Mark 1 surmised in his post, if that's not realistic enough, or too abstract for some, it can still result in a great game experience, and too bad for the little green men who have to pay for our less-than-perfect game play out on the tabletop.

Complex human behavior, really? Come to think of it, I've played with some crazy gamer types over the years (literally, real stinkers too) wouldn't think of wanting that behavior to be modeled in the least.

TP, thanks for your thought-provoking article.

Thank you too for your great game presentations, it's always been art, and gaming!

I have disagreements with your game beliefs. Keep them (you haven't changed over the years anyway), but I'll insist that I, and other gamers that game like me can keep our beliefs too……they work really well for us, and have stood the test of time…..have found our sweet-spot (best of luck dear gamer).

Wolfhag10 Jul 2023 6:16 p.m. PST

What is much harder to measure and assess is human activity which introduces more unreliable and complex sets of actions.

In most games I've observed, players will use their units like the Russians did, down to the last man with no regard for life. That may or may not be realistic. I've seen some players ignore my recommendations and do the stupidest thing they can on purpose. That too may or may not be realistic.

In my game when a tank takes spalling damage it can trigger a morale check. If it fails the check the player can choose to have his crew bail out or must move out of the enemy LOS taking the shortest path.

I now use a points system in the game worth its weight in tons rounded down. An immobilized 35-ton tank is 3 points. If on fire it is 6 points and brewed up 9 points. Each enemy crewman killed is worth 2 points. Now players will continue to shoot at an immobilized tank until there is a visible result and/or attempt to cut down the crew when they are bailing out. Killing the crew can give more points than destroying the tank.

If there are no other hard targets players will go hunting for enemy crewmen attempting to escape. Yes, some players will run over and crush them on purpose.

I've found that if you want more realistic results reward players for performing those realistic actions.

Wolfhag

Wolfhag10 Jul 2023 6:24 p.m. PST

This has me…..confused. On one hand, human behavior is complex, even unpredictable, so why not let players make their choices, and reap the rewards or consequences of being in command. Chances are, as complex humans, that will be reflected in-game just fine.

I agree. I've had players ignore my advice and get better results than I would have. In my game players can perform almost any action actual crews did. However, just as on a real battlefield, orders are not executed immediately, they take time to execute depending on the weapons platform performance, crew type, and the unit's situational awareness.

Players can choose to execute a shooting order in less time (snap shot) than normal but with an increased chance of missing. I let the player decide and take his own risks which can often backfire. There is no point in shooting first if you miss. Take too long and you are dead before you shoot. Since the time an order is executed is unknown to opponents an interesting fog of war is created because no one knows what will happen from turn to turn.

Wolfhag

TacticalPainter0110 Jul 2023 9:27 p.m. PST

I think you need to differentiate between players making stupid decisions and players giving orders to units that are not acted upon in the way that they had hoped. There should be a difference, unless the player is playing the role of every soldier on the table. This is where the unpredictably of human behaviour can come into play.

Giving an order and seeing it executed exactly as you wish is not a given. There will be times a commander has to send a subordinate forward to get the unit moving just as there will be times when those ordered react swiftly and obey the order.

What the commander wants to happen and what actually happens are not necessarily going to be the same. If the commander (the player) gives the order and then the unit (also played by the player) carries it out then the game isn't replicating any chain of command.

A stupid decision remains just that and regardless of how efficiently the unit carries it out will always remain a poor command decision. A good command decision not carried out as quickly or effectively as the commander wishes is a different proposition. How a good commander deals with that (feeds in a reserve, assigns a more dynamic commander to lead the unit etc) will often be a deciding factor.

Eisenhower's decision to launch D Day was fraught with anxiety, so many factors were going to be at play and nearly all of them beyond his control. How many other commanders have shared the same anguish, knowing full well the difference between intent and reality? Not everything went exactly as planned, unpredictable things happened but men on the beaches made decisions that led to success and failure such that the landings were a success. No one predicted that.

UshCha11 Jul 2023 3:33 a.m. PST

I think there is a flaw in FlyXwire's sytement at least as it applies to me. I play to gain a limited understanding of the situations|I read abount in. That sets some minima for a lets say a Credible game. First is, that the ground and the weapons systems need to be scaled. Ranges can be approximated but that data is reasonabley available. If the model is somewhere reasonable then the formations required in thye real world should be somthing close to the optimum for thr game.

Given with trivial human responces, and not an infalible comtrol system you begin to understand how to set up positions approaqching those of the real world and for instace why defence in depth is a good solution.

To me a wargame is both educational and Fun if it were bnot both it would be none.

As for the army thing I suspect at least some of the statements don't stand too much scrutany. A serving soldier stated that the further up the tree you are the more the focus is on Logistics not the current battle. That seems not to be tbe reflected well in many games in the moderen period. Even with lots of players it's not a good model. If you wanted a real simulation maybe one players shopuld be solving logistics problems not actually fighting "at the front" as it were.

My one experience of multi player games is that they are not useful generally, most guys want to play not sit on there hands like in the real woerld and generally thay lack much in the way of historic undetstanding on the period and tactics so the game is not better than a single opponent who has at least more than a passing interest in the period and an undetstanding of the tactics of the period. Again without which the ensuming game is no fum as far as I am concerned.

Personal logo FlyXwire Supporting Member of TMP11 Jul 2023 4:27 a.m. PST

I think you're showing your lack of experience with multiplayer gaming UshCha (but your opinion is valid to you, so).

Perhaps also, most players aren't coming to the game table from having been a serving soldier. I have serving soldiers, and veterans coming to my games, and they're not looking for a repeat of their combat experiences, maybe perhaps one informed by that experience at the most.

Wolfhag has been a serving soldier, and so maybe he understands real battle chaos first-hand, but I doubt he wants to experience that reality in a hobby that's purported to be about education and fun despite game rewards for running over enemy crews (hey, it's real-life, right)? ;)

There's a level of tolerance involved in gaming, and when presenting games for others, who might have differing expectations as they sit down to the table, different attitudes can become pertinent (the point then becomes "informative" it often broadens perspective).

Are rulesets weapons to inflict pain, or tools to reward UshCha's desire for education and fun?

UshCha11 Jul 2023 7:47 a.m. PST

FlyXwire, now that statement at least is closer than your original one. I guess some coppers don't want to watch too many real life cop shows they get enough of that anyway.

Clearly as has always been the case generalizing on what is fun is a pointless exercise we all get our fun in different ways.

So an interesting issue may be how "Realistic" do you want it to be?

Some folk are against hiding troops as it spoils the visual effect, but that does reduce the validity of the simulation. That is a good example where realism is compromised deliberately for other equally valid gains.

We have some friends who play a well known tank game, we got them to play ours. Turns out one of the players slaughtered the rest in our game. They then admitted they played their game as it was sufficiently random that it minimized the experts players chance of winning. Again a game objective counter to the objectives of a simulation by choice.

So perhaps the question is, how realistic do you want it? perhaps not every body wants to play "realistic". The answer may be that not as realistic as it could be. At it's most accurate it may come somewhere close in some aspects, but that may already be a step too far for some.

Multi player games, well its personal preference on what you see as your best game. Personally the games that count as great for me are mainly single player a side games requiring the utmost concentration on planning and implementation, a real, good humored "grudge match".

I have never experienced that in a multi player game, they end up more social event than gripping game and typicality more of a coaching session than a top of the range exciting gripping adventure pushing you to your limits and beyond. But again its what you personally want out of a game and that is not a single universal definition.

UshCha11 Jul 2023 8:36 a.m. PST

Wadering away I thought of something. My friend and co-author of Maneouvre Group plays napoleonivs. He has identified what he considered the most realistic set while being not overly complex. The fact that is not universal classed as the best rules probably also points to the desire on the part of some, not to want as much realism as is possible even on a tabletop. Even some in his group mourn the inability to just do what they want, not wanting to be constrained even minimally by a realistic command and control structure.

aedwards11 Jul 2023 1:35 p.m. PST

IMO, any attempt at "realism" that doesn't include a sizeable treatise on how the mathematical model behind their system is working isn't worth my time. It is just some dude complaining "what I value isn't valued by other people".

Nobody in their right mind is going to hold up WAB as a simulation, but it got one thing remarkably right (at least with the original army lists): On any given Sunday, there were good odds that your battle plan would completely collapse and you'd lose despite your best efforts to the contrary.

Whirlwind11 Jul 2023 9:59 p.m. PST

We have some friends who play a well known tank game, we got them to play ours. Turns out one of the players slaughtered the rest in our game. They then admitted they played their game as it was sufficiently random that it minimized the experts players chance of winning. Again a game objective counter to the objectives of a simulation by choice.

Why would more randomness necessarily imply that the game was less accurate as a simulation? The less random game might be just more akin to chess: something that really rewards skilled play through game knowledge. Our wargames as simulations have a much harder challenge: to replicate the advantage that someone who knows about the period would have, without giving worthwhile advantages to players who master little tactical mini-games within the rules.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP11 Jul 2023 10:35 p.m. PST

Randomness is overrated.

Whirlwind11 Jul 2023 10:58 p.m. PST

Randomness is overrated.

On which metric/axis?

Or did you mean, "Why did WW write randomness when he probably really meant stochastic?"

pfmodel12 Jul 2023 12:07 a.m. PST

This whitepaper may be of interest, it comes from a US wargaming conference and discussed the four basic types of wargames and their purposes;
link

pfmodel12 Jul 2023 12:13 a.m. PST

Randomness is overrated.

I have a real love hate relationship with randoness, this white paper from the 2023 wargaming conference provides some interesting info about randoness.
link

Whirlwind12 Jul 2023 1:01 a.m. PST

It is interesting, although the main objection seems to be that randomness stops players learning the desired lesson of the game. Fair enough if teaching a specific point is the aim but not really anything to do with simulation, there is nothing stopping combat outcomes being fairly random.

Personal logo FlyXwire Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2023 3:38 a.m. PST

Juicy conversation!

UshCha, I connected with what you wrote above and we're seeing each others' battle space better.

PFMODEL, I enjoyed the whitepaper.

I thought this was pertinent from it -

"At base, I think the core point is where do the players get their information about how actions unfold in the real world and how do they use what information and beliefs they enter the game with to drive their decisions in light of what the game presents to them."

Then -

"When the insights are derived from historical, operational, and scientific analysis and data collection, it is usually up to the game designer to massage that information into a form useful for the game. This process can also lead to error and bias."

But wait, there's more -

"Just as the designer of a wargame will usually mix the perspectives of the artist, the architect and the analyst, so too any single wargame design will weave different threads of abstraction, distillation and simulation."

So where does each consumer, as a gamer, fall into this mix of abstraction, distillation, and simulation?

Speaking from my perspective this mix of interests has definitely changed over time, so my definitive answer to these things about my ultimate gaming likes……. *why should I have to decide!*

4th Cuirassier12 Jul 2023 3:55 a.m. PST

@ Wolfhag

In most games I've observed, players will use their units like the Russians did, down to the last man with no regard for life.

This is a severe temptation in one-off games: you don't have to play the next game using just the survivors from this one. So there's no reason to preserve any.

What cures this, usually, is a campaign structure, where you do fight the next battle with whatever you had left after this one.

Wolfhag12 Jul 2023 5:20 a.m. PST

4th Cuirassier,
Yes but at conventions and game clubs, you rarely get that chance. Many players are only interested in rolling the dice and blowing things up while playing with their toys. They like the entertainment and social aspect of the game. Historical realism takes a back seat.

Based on the most popular games being played I don't think historical realism is very high demand or designers cannot make it playable.

When I say "historical realism" I'm talking about designs that generate historical actions and tactics that are derived from manuals and after-action reports, not tricky or elegant dice mechanics that can paint an image of realism in your mind or generate a subjective narrative. I think a game based on historical realism would not be popular because it would not be balanced and fair because real combat is anything but fair and balanced. Reality sucks.

In one of my games, the German Panther player complained that the Shermans were firing almost twice as much as he was. I indicated to him the historical rates of fire were about that, no more complaints as it was not an arbitrary rule or mechanic I made up. It was not "fair" but the player accepted the historical reality.

Subjective and arbitrary rules can always be called into question or changed. This is how game publishing companies "prey" on us by coming out with a "new and improved" set of rules mainly because they need a new revenue stream.

Normally the response is, "Here is the new boss, same as the old boss" as the song goes. You have to ask yourself if they will ever get it right. For me, the answer is NO!

Wolfhag

Personal logo FlyXwire Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2023 6:00 a.m. PST

Wolfhag, there's some real frustration coming through in your post here.

Connecting up with you I'll craft game scenarios, historically-inspired (some as close I can get to the known forces involved, but 'mission-balanced' using my own experience in design and from years of game crafting)……but, now even my veteran players just want to roll some dice.

Correction: roll lots of dice, pick some cards, draw those chits, wait: it's a new turn? cool, roll some dice again. :)))

In fact, recently I listened to one of them lamnet that players ignore their mission orders in his games, but then he turns around and does the same thing when he's playing just avoid that virtual chain-of-command (which informs the actual scenario mission, the battle problem, the historical situation portrayed, um the presentation's purpose), and just goes gunnin'.

This is something I think goes directly to the popular game products that have been sold as historical games (or taken as rote gameplay enjoyment) points balance matching, where most of the outcome is just waiting for the dice-throws to determine a victor, there's no mission to fulfill, just don't lose your stuff, and you're…..just goin' through the motion.

Am I frustrated, not so much (maybe because I've always had a good sense of humor). :)))

UshCha12 Jul 2023 8:02 a.m. PST

So finally we get somewhere, the issue is not how credible can you get it, but do players really want it? It can be a lot more credible than some current games are. Lets face it equal side in a typical Moderen game of small scale is going to be a stalemate unless one side is stupid or the randomness is overarching so one side gets an advantage.

I read an after action report where the game requires both sides to roll for troop quality. The "attacker" rolled down and realized winning would be realistically impossible. A real decent general would not attack under those circumstances unless politics intervened. Such a game for me would be of no interest, nothing to learn no credible challenges.

Personally it escapes me that we still see modern games with equal sized forces. Phil Barker decades ago realized the lunacy of that approach if something credible was to be played. So again its not what can be achieved but what is wanted.

Whirlwind – your approach is so far away from my own there is no common ground where a useful discussion can be had.

Whirlwind12 Jul 2023 9:53 a.m. PST

Whirlwind your approach is so far away from my own there is no common ground where a useful discussion can be had.

Don't see why since we are both apparently quite interested in genuinely accurate simulations, but whatever.

Wolfhag12 Jul 2023 10:32 a.m. PST

pfmodel,
I was at that presentation a few weeks ago. It was a great event and many games were set up, all board games except for the Bolt Action people. Tim Barrick from the Marine Wargaming Center showcased his game Assasin's Mace: link

It's a board game but you could easily use miniatures like some people do playing Axis & Allies.

The talk we gave at Connections was on first-hand accounts of small unit infantry combat in Ukraine was in one of the smaller break-out rooms but was standing room only with people in the hallways too. There was interest in further engagements from other DoD and military war gaming groups. I stood in for their SigInt/drone operator that I know who could not attend.

The talk centered around the planning and execution of the Kharkiv Offensive in Sept 2022 and how Western militaries are woefully unprepared to fight in a high-threat EW environment that negates the Western advantages and they are not prepared for the artillery war, especially the capability of striking far behind the lines to command nodes and logistical sites. They were in Bakhmut for 4 months and said the artillery bombardments and trench warfare is like the Somme in WWI and the urban fighting is like Stalingrad.

Back to randomness: I think one way that randomness can realistically be simulated is Mean Time Between Failures which is fairly well documented and documented actions on a Bell Curve. Much of the effect would be based on the time scale of the game. A skirmish encounter that historically takes minutes may not have enough time but one with turns of days and weeks would.

For example, you know that the historical reload time for a gun is 7 seconds by a newly trained crew. Untrained crews when starting training take 12 seconds. There are shortcuts that crews that have been in combat working together can do in 5 seconds. Now you have historical benchmarks to work with.

You could randomize reload time for a newly trained crew with 7 seconds 66% of the time (1-13 on a D20), 8 seconds 25% of the time (14-18), and 9 seconds 9% of the time (19-20). This throws some randomness into the reload time to shoot making it less predictable than a deterministic model. If the future time a unit executes a shooting order is unknown to the enemy it generates a more realistic Fog of War.

I'm of the opinion that random bad things happen at the worst time. In my game, it is when shooting. I like to keep the targeted player involved in the shooting process (it's no fun sitting helplessly when being fired at). So when the shooter rolls to see if he hits the target player rolls a D20 needing a 1 for a potential SNAFU which could be any number of historical occurrences from poor aim (accuracy penalty), jam, misfire, loader loaded the wrong ammo, AP round was defective so only 50% of penetration value, etc. Sometimes we go an entire game or two without one. In a recent game, I was fired at 12 times and rolled 3 SNAFUs. It's the suspense that makes it interesting.

There is one critical SNAFU that has a 1 in 2000 shots chance of happening. However, it has happened twice in about 300 shots. It may not ever happen again for us. Who knows? In fact, it did happen the very first time we rolled on the SNAFU Chart to me. What are the odds of that?

Another random occurrence is ricochets which are hard to predict. I've looked at armored vehicle profiles for the amount of area with edges or surfaces curved enough (like mantlets) or a compound angle of 60+ degrees that may generate a ricochet.

Each hit location has a ricochet chance from 1 (very small chance) to 15 (highly angled/curved). When the shooting player rolls for hit location the target player rolls a D20 with no modifiers. If the result is <= the ricochet number the round bounces for no damage. Most locations are a 1 or a 2. It normally happens a few times in a game but does not overpower the outcome. However, in a shootout between two tanks, a ricochet is normally followed by a hit from your opponent before you can reload and shoot again. There are many historical accounts of ricochets when they were least expected.

Some tanks like the Panther have a shot trap if the round bounces off the bottom of the mantlet. If you model ricochets you can include shot traps too.

My experience is that randomness and the potential of a SNAFU or bad outcome generate excitement and suspense when the dice are rolled in the game even if not entirely realistic. If players are not entertained they get bored.

Wolfhag

UshCha12 Jul 2023 12:31 p.m. PST

Whirlwind

Our wargames as simulations have a much harder challenge: to replicate the advantage that someone who knows about the period would have, without giving worthwhile advantages to players who master little tactical mini-games within the rules.

This statement is massively against my aims and objectives as a simulation designer, its degrading the purpose of a simulation. Never would I consider "without giving worthwhile advantages to players who master little tactical mini-games within the rules"
Its like saying a racer in the tour de France is not very good so give him an electric bike as he does not want to train, an utterly and totally unacceptable approach in this case to bike racing.

Wolhag, I can assure you none of our players don't want SNAFU's nobody in our group find them other than a tedious artifice. If SNAFU's are so entertaining why does Chess not include them?

If your players are bored they are not playing, send them home, or you have set it up wrong. A decent game should have you on edge all the time. the IGOUGO system whose system allows a flexible response within some limits, has an un-looked for side affect of keeping the players in the loop all the time.

Multi player games then become a series of simultaneous one player games that are linked, can proceed as different speeds and create real fog of war at the interfaces. Now if your players are not up to speed, it's a training game, not a decent challenging game. It hinges on what you decide is actually a good game, opinions seem to differ.

Whirlwind12 Jul 2023 12:41 p.m. PST

This statement is massively against my aims and objectives as a simulation designer, its degrading the purpose of a simulation. Never would I consider "without giving worthwhile advantages to players who master little tactical mini-games within the rules"
Its like saying a racer in the tour de France is not very good so give him an electric bike as he does not want to train, an utterly and totally unacceptable approach in this case to bike racing.

No, if you thought that is what I meant, then you have misunderstood it. By tactical mini-games within the rules, I mean the advantages garnered by players who, whilst playing a game that represents a battlegroup in action, have managed to master sub-systems which allow a player to seamlessly slip down the command levels and expertly manouevre platoons and sections. No blame to such players, they are playing the game the way it was desinged. But as simulation design, it fails utterly IMHO.

wargamingUSA13 Jul 2023 4:52 a.m. PST

@TacticalPainter, thanks for the article. As an aside I periodically visit your page and enjoy reading/looking at many of your various online posts.

Agree with much of what FlyXwire said.

IMHO, it comes down to what a player wants out of a game.

Gather together someone who has worked to design a scenario and apply rules that yield the game he hopes to present, with players who are looking for that type of game, and its all good. Get a presenter together with one or more players who are looking for something different and a lot of the satisfaction and enjoyment goes out the window.

I have gaming pals who present and play the type of games I like and so we make an effort to game together. I know others, good folks to be sure, who prefer a different type of presentation and play and so I avoid gaming with them. Playing a game at a convention is always a crapshoot; although in all my years I have only bowed out of one game (gawd it was awful).

Two cents worth

UshCha13 Jul 2023 5:37 a.m. PST

Whirlwind – Its interesting because we seem to be having a dialogue of the deaf. You speak and I don't understand. I Speak and similarly seem to understand. An interesting state of affairs.

Even you last statement confuses me. I would like to think and with some experience behind me on the game, getting up and down the command as an example structure is simple, and will not cause anybody to do it other than seamlessly with very limited practice.

Our intention was always to make the rule as simple as possible given the parameters that need to be covered.

However given reasonable (at least to us) command limitations it's not implementing the "system" but what to send down the system. Even a completely seamless command system will not help if you don't know what commands and when to send down the chain. That requires a knowledge of the real world. I do admit that in the early days we were scampering to the manuals and accounts as too many years of "toy Soldiers" had taught us bad habits. That means no player without a reasonable grounding in the real world is going to be in with much of a chance initially. However like us the fun is in the learning and grasping at least some of the understanding required in the real world.

Maneouvre Group is not directed at the 4 games a year crowd, they are well catered for by others. You need a lot more than 4 games a year to get the best out the system. Like chess the rules are very simple, the game is not, complexity comes form the interaction. Mind you what constitutes complex is an interesting topic. Turning turrets on tanks like I did as a Kid had been described by some as too complex. I don't know what to do with a statement like that, though I am sure the gentleman was sincere in his statement.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2023 6:37 a.m. PST

I tried to stay out of this but in the end I couldn't – the topic is too interesting. Thanks, TacticalPainter! Nice essay.

For me, the key is in one of your closing sentences: "it is possible to try to reflect more accurately the outcomes of decisions that are made on the battlefield". I'm with FlyXWIre who says above that it's all about decision-making.

When I'm playing, I want to be faced with new and challenging decisions every turn. When I design a scenario or run a game, I want it to confront the players with similar decisions (strategic / tactical) to those that the historical generals would have had to make.

If the game rewards good plans or decisions and punishes bad ones in what Bobm describes above as a 'convincing' way, then that's the degree of realism I'm looking for.

Not everyone wants that. In my own series of "Reflections on Wargaming" essays, there is one called "Wargames: how much 'war', how much 'game'?"
link

My own answer to the question originally posed: yes, of course they can. Not in every respect, but in terms of the particular phenomena they aspire to model, the modelling can be more or less realistic and sufficiently so to achieve whatever the aim of the game may be.

Thanks again for a thought-provoking essay and well done for generating so much discussion!

UshCha13 Jul 2023 9:25 a.m. PST

I do owe TP an apologize this has resulted in an excellent thread.

It is interesting that detail and realism are considered the same thing, they are not necessarily. As rather cynical but good example. My figures are very crude and lack detail. However you could play with much more detailed more realistic figures, however there is no change in the realism of the model. Similarly adding detail to a model may not make it more accurate just slower to implement, it may even make the simulation worse by slowing the calculations and reducing the rate of play which if playing time is fixed is a definite retrograde step.

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2023 5:15 a.m. PST

As Wally Simon used to say, "Detail does not imply accuracy."

Sam Mustafa's philosophy is that there is a compromise between process and outcome. There needs to be enough relevant process in the game to make it interesting but the results should not lead to inaccurate outcomes.

I have found that limiting or removing the view of other side of the hill makes most gamers change their play style – the unknown unknowns. The empty battlefield being the most challenging example.

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