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Subject: Camouflage and Deception Mechanics in Wargames? rss

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Scott Laughlin
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I just watched the PBS documentary "The Ghost Army" which was about an Army unit that deployed inflatable tanks, recordings, scripted radio transmissions and other theatrical elements to fool German intelligence. That got me thinking that such devices would make for interesting war game mechanics.

My wargaming experience being relatively thin, I suspect this has been done in games before, however I've not encountered it. Can anyone suggest a game where deceptive deployment elements have been successfully implemented?
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Michael Sommers
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Lots of games have dummy counters, representing units that aren't there. These function like real units (except they can't attack), until revealed as being dummies. They could represent deception, but usually they represent rumors, faulty intelligence, and stuff like that, the fog of war.
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Mike Hoyt

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Columbia's block games make use of blocks with unknowable strength to serve this purpose. See EastFront II
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Carl Paradis
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blockhead wrote:
Columbia's block games make use of blocks with unknowable strength to serve this purpose. See EastFront II


I have always wondered how accurate is that block system in a lot of instances. Gamer's memory do play a big part here. And perhaps this is too much of a good thing: You know almost nothing about your enemy dispositions but what you can remember from last turn's positions. Rules where you can uncover some of your opponent units before moving your own are sorely lacking in those games and I just don't understand why it is so.

I prefer full disclosure (hey you do have intelligence units in your Army!), BUT the unknown taken care of by event cards that will affect combat and movement and reserves etc... Or perhaps a combination of both?
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Jonathan "Spartan Spawn, Sworn, Raised for Warring!"
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While not intentional deception, some of the older SPI games have a sort of camouflage aspect built in. Some of their games Patton's 3rd Army: The Lorraine Campaign, being one, have untried units, and these units neither side knows their combat value until they actually meet in combat.

To be fair this is also a hard factor to mitigate for the person playing their own side but it hardly guarantees the attacker a victory in a battle if his or the enemies forces are as of yet untried.
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Alexander Künzle
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1805: Sea of Glory. It's a strategic block wargame about the campaign which caused the Battle of Trafalgar. The Brits are supposed to blockade the French and Spanish harbors while the French player tries to break his fleets free. Each block represents a fleet or a frigate. However, if the Brits fail to spot a French fleet when they leave harbor the French player gets to use dummy blocks to conceal the location destination of his real fleet.

One of my favorite mechanics btw.
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Scott Laughlin
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Thanks for the replies thus far.

I've not played any of the block games noted here, however I presume from the description they operate like an advanced form of Stratego...
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Lance McMillan
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2manygamez wrote:
block games ... operate like an advanced form of Stratego...


Yes, but only to an extent. The block's orientation (e.g. which one of the four edges is "up") also regulates that unit's strength -- as the unit takes losses you rotate the block so that a different side with a lower strength is "up" (or rotate it the other way to increase the unit's strength as it receives replacements).

There are two issues associated with this mechanic. First, only the enemy player is potentially "deceived" by the unit (in other words, the unit's owner always knows its actual capabilities). Second, as licinius notes above, it's not too difficult to remember the rough locations of the enemy units you've seen (this is especially true if there are any defects or patterns on the reverse "unknown" side of the block, which I've found to often be the case). I also personally dislike the block system because it's so fiddly (you're constantly worried about keeping the blocks oriented properly, so that the correct side is "up" and so that your opponent can't see the reverse side of the block). Don't get me wrong, I think blocks are a good simple method for limiting information, but they do have issues.

In my experience, naval wargames tend to have better systems for capturing limited intel and allowing for deception. Even a simple game, like Ben Knight's Victory at Midway, allowed players to shuffle the units in their Task Groups around in such a way as to confuse the enemy as to where your main effort would be coming from or whether that "carrier" you just spotted was just a single CVE or the main body with four full CVs. Of course, a lot of this is handled by using off-map displays, and requiring both players to maintain separate maps (sort of like the classic Battleship kid's game), but it works surprisingly well. I've always wondered why nobody has ever explored using a similar system for a ground game.
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Brian Train
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Lancer4321 wrote:


In my experience, naval wargames tend to have better systems for capturing limited intel and allowing for deception. Even a simple game, like Ben Knight's Victory at Midway, allowed players to shuffle the units in their Task Groups around in such a way as to confuse the enemy as to where your main effort would be coming from or whether that "carrier" you just spotted was just a single CVE or the main body with four full CVs. Of course, a lot of this is handled by using off-map displays, and requiring both players to maintain separate maps (sort of like the classic Battleship kid's game), but it works surprisingly well. I've always wondered why nobody has ever explored using a similar system for a ground game.


This works for naval games because of the overall low number of units involved; usually ground games have a lot more pieces.

It's been tried a few times, in games like Superiority and, a lot more sophisticated, Cityfight: Modern Combat in the Urban Environment.
The double-blind games that came from GDW in the early 80s went down well - e.g. Operation Market Garden.
The Wargmaer magazine put out a few double-blind items like West Wall, Duel in the Desert and Clash of Steel.
These relied on a set front line, any changes in which you had to inform your opponent.

Double-Blind Land Warfare Wargames

Outside of that you have people playing games double-blind conversions - which takes an umpire and two or three copies of the game, and a lot of time.
Almost any wargame can be played this way, if you have the time and patience, and it gives players an experience like nothing else.
For one thing, people get a lot more cautious!

Anyway, this is more in line with limited information and the endemic fog of war, not deliberate deception (though with these kinds of games you can get away with a lot more feints and threats than with others).
As has been noted, things like dummy markers and "holding tank" markers for off-board displays that may have nothing in them are methods that are often used.

I designed Balkan Gambit some time ago to explore the Allied invasions of the Mediterranean that weren't, because they were actually deception plans for covering the invasions of Sicily and southern France.
Half of the Allied order of battle is composed of fictitious divisions that the Allies created, either out of nothing but radio traffic and dummy equipment or tasking a brigade with acting like a division.
I figured that since such operations inhabited the fantasies of both sides, the units ought to be fictional too.

Brian
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Ron A
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ltmurnau wrote:

Outside of that you have people playing games double-blind conversions - which takes an umpire and two or three copies of the game, and a lot of time.
Almost any wargame can be played this way, if you have the time and patience, and it gives players an experience like nothing else.
For one thing, people get a lot more cautious!


Oh yes! Lee Forester, Perry Andrus and some others used to play TCS battles this way, and I got in on the GD'41 game. It was everything Brian said and more. Most amazing and best gaming experience ever.

I only have one experience with blocks, a playtest session of War Stories: Liberty Road. We really didn't have a problem with memorizing what the opposing troops were, because we never revealed exactly what they were. We knew big blocks were vehicles, and small blocks were NOT vehicles, but in combat we would just give the combat value and armor rating, so we never knew what was shooting at us, nor, exactly, what we were shooting at. This resulted in very different play than normally seen in a "God's eye" type of game. As Brian said, with less info you become more cautious. I really enjoyed myself.
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Brian Train
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Playing this way is about the only way we hobbyists can come close to appreciating the difficulties of historical commanders.
But even when gamers have the inclination, they usually don't have the time, space or people to make it happen.
This, and the hand-waving nature of the supply and logistics rules in most wargames, make me smile and shake my head when I read or hear someone saying that wargames give him tremendous insight into war...we are playing with the shadows on the cave wall.

Brian
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Simon
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The allies used wooden model tanks and had nomad horsemen riding around to churn up dirt in the North African campaigns in WW2.

Rommel in the desert does use blocks, but doesn't give you fake blocks. Of the columbia style games i think only is Quebec 1759.

Most of these style games have limited bluffing in them. They basically add uncertainty. In Richard III, the one i have played most, I can work out what most of the blocks are at any given time just from experience and memory. A serious opportunity for a bluff happens about once every dozen moves.

Sekigahara, of the popular block type games, whilst an atypical design, probably has the most bluff potential of the games I have played. Blocks can only fight if you have the right cards, so a popular gambit is to move a massive stack toward the enemy that you cannot actually use in an attempt to panic them. You can do this in Napoleon's Triumph to an extent too.

The problem of course is largely hindsight. Most commanders in history get one shot to get it right. We can replay and 'learn' every game multiple times.
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Scott Laughlin
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Thanks for all the details! I will dig into some of the games pointed out, as well as read up on double-blind gaming.

I know it's hard to come up with something totally new in a game area that's been active for several decades, however I'm going to do some thinking about how else active deception may be incorporated in a war game scenario.
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Brian Train
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Well, we don't need something new, we just need something better.

I've been working on a simpler Vietnam COIN game for a client, and thought an interesting way to incorporate deception and limited information would be for the insurgent to record Victory Points for both sides for the "psychological" things and events, and the Government player would only know his VP from military successes... that is, just the body count.
Gonna try it out.

Brian
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Scott Laughlin
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ltmurnau wrote:
Well, we don't need something new, we just need something better.


Point well taken. I'll let you know if I hit upon anything worthwhile.
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Rdoxx (http://www.rdoxx.com/products.html) sells "counter sleds" in various sizes, which can be used to stand any set of counters on edge so that they can be played like a block game.
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Tonny Wille
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I also like the way To The Last Man! creates a fog of war. You see all armies on the map but you don't know which units they contain or how many.

My only game so far had me outflank the armies in the Elzas (French-German border) and attack Paris from the north (Belgium). I believed it was just a matter of time before Paris would fall. But somehow she managed to get units to block me and after that she dig in. Although I had the upperhand all the time repeated attacks failed to force a breakthrough.
After several attacks with no succes I decided to reinforce my troops in the Elzas and launched a major offensive there. She still believed I would reinforce my troops north of Paris to launch my next assault and all her reinforcement went that side.
I took her compeletely by surprise and by the end of that turn... the road to Paris was open and the entente powers from the west surrendered
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Eddy Sterckx
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A quick mention here for Panzergruppe Guderian in which the Russian units start flipped over and their true strength is only revealed upon contact with a German unit. This is a fascinating system as even the Russian player is unsure about the strength of his own units - this is pretty historical as some units fought, and fought well, while others simply evaporated.
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Simon
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the Napoleonic 20 series allow you to play with counters flipped down, and Amateurs to Arms has wooden counters for armies but the units in them are all kept on a display hidden behind a screen.
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Ron A
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ltmurnau wrote:
Playing this way is about the only way we hobbyists can come close to appreciating the difficulties of historical commanders.
But even when gamers have the inclination, they usually don't have the time, space or people to make it happen.
This, and the hand-waving nature of the supply and logistics rules in most wargames, make me smile and shake my head when I read or hear someone saying that wargames give him tremendous insight into war...we are playing with the shadows on the cave wall.

Brian


As far as time, space, etc, goes, yes, the double blind GD'41 game WAS a pain. We played by email, turns were 1 week to 1 month or more apart.

...and having been a lifelong civilian, I am in no position to judge how close any wargame comes to real life. Still, it was quite different. We were playing TCS series, with each of the 2 dozen players having control of just one battalion, with limited communication back to the overall commander and our fellow teammates. Even then, we implemented Op Sheets but didn't even have hex by hex control of our own units, the GM actually moved and fought our units as he saw fit following the Op Sheets. We would (sometimes) get reports back from the companies, depending on how engaged they were.

They may have been Platonic shadows (+1 for the reference), but they were pretty cool nonetheless.
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Scott Laughlin
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I understand that the New Guinea Battle Pack for CC: adds hidden units and hidden obstacles to that system. I have it coming now and look forward to see how that is implemented.
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ltmurnau wrote:
Playing this way is about the only way we hobbyists can come close to appreciating the difficulties of historical commanders.
But even when gamers have the inclination, they usually don't have the time, space or people to make it happen.
This, and the hand-waving nature of the supply and logistics rules in most wargames, make me smile and shake my head when I read or hear someone saying that wargames give him tremendous insight into war...we are playing with the shadows on the cave wall.

Brian


I broadly agree with this comment and why I continue to develop the PacWar/Empire of the Sun intelligence system into new designs.

Mark
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Sigh ... though not deception, true fog of war and limited information is so missing especially at tactical level games. I really want to see a game where I go to attack those 3-6 enemy counters in the little stone hamlet with my Commonwealth forces first turn in the morning and find that they've fled in the night. They aren't really there. What system is closest to double-blind, I wonder?
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Scott Laughlin
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MarkHerman wrote:
... why I continue to develop the PacWar/Empire of the Sun intelligence system into new designs.


This is the gist of it Mark. The more I've thought about it, the less I think it is a "war game mechanic" as I originally labelled it in my OP. Rather, it's an intelligence simulation.

Further, I think I also need to refine my original post to separate camouflage from deception. You can camouflage a unit's characteristics by simply turning over the counter ('enemy force unknown') or using an off-map recording system to place hidden forces ('enemy location unknown'). What is less simple is to simulate the effects of imperfect, or incorrect, intelligence gathering.
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At the tactical level the designer of the new War Stories: Liberty Road ( there is an East Front version as well) has made a concentrated effort to introduce FOW through both blocks and separate scenario briefing books, and cards for each player and dummy units. There are some Gencon videos to give you a feel for the approach. Strikingly, the first sentence out of the designer's mouth is usually about FOW
He also, along with original designer, put a lot of effort into ease of play. I have not tried the game myself... I believe there were copies at Gencon but it is not generally available yet.
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