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Subject: How closely should wargames simulate history? rss

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Mike Windsor
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It seems that with more and more wargames, I receive "special rules" that just apply to that game, and which are often longer than the "base" rules. Some add new rules for new situations (ie. using barges to get cavalry across a river, secret supply caches for insurgents, that sort of thing). But, a lot of "special rules" act to hamper or aid a particular commander or unit in an effort to re-create a historical situation. Examples are special rules that limit a commander's performance (Jackson at the Seven Days, Burnside just about anywhere), the wierd terrain feature that only a few units moved through by defying all odds, the special DRM because X unit was especially successful that day. Everyone can come up with a favorite.

The main question is, "Do you really want all of those special rules that make sure that the game re-creates history as much as possible?"

Some sub-questions:

1. Would you prefer not having special rules that help or hinder commanders? (ie. would you rather play an Antietam game and assume that all leaders are pretty much the same, or do you want special rules that account for all those annoying fools and laggards?)

2. Do you want special rules that create special units or sitations? (Do you want a special rule that the Iron Brigade never routs, or should that situation -- if it arises -- be created by the luck of the dice roll?)

3. Would you be willing to put up with historic units in an ahistoric
situation? (ie. would you be willing buy a game [or at least a set of maps] that had the armies meeting at Hanover, Pennsylvania rather than Gettysburg? To look at it another way, should a game like ASL have historic maps and scenarios, or generic ones?)

My examples are often American Civil War examples, but this discussion is my no means limited to that era.
 
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Aaron Cinzori
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I like my war games to have some connection to history.

For example, I don't find Victory: The Blocks of War to be interesting at all, but I'm looking forward to FAB: The Bulge. They both have blocks, tanks, and infantry, but somehow if I'm not charging across a map of Europe with rules to constrain my behavior in historical ways, I'm just not engaged. If there's not a good connection to historical reality, I'd rather play a Euro (that's not a snipe at Euros, I play those more than war games these days) or some Ameritrash (I'm enjoying Monsters Ravage (not Menace) America lately).

That's not to say I want my war games to be rigid simulations. I don't want to be forced to reenact events just as they occurred. I want to be put into a situation that feels like one that actually occurred and then be allowed to explore what might have happened if I were in charge. If that historical situation had some incompetent commanders under me, then that's a reasonable thing to have in the game.

In short, I like some chrome, but I don't want to be crushed by it.

-Aaron
 
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Eli Smith
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Well my view is this:

There's no "Cannon of True Law" that says anyone HAS to use special historical rules.

I like historical wargames for the "What if" factor, I'm given the same disposition of forces as a historical commander can I do better (or worse, usually) than the historical leader did? Thus historical special rules often do apply in order for me to be satisfied that I met my personal wargaming goal.

so in response to yoiur irect queries:

1.) This depends on the scale of the conflict being represented, If I'm supposed to "be" that commander then no, I don't want rules that hinder me, if these are commanders under me in the chain of command then I don't mind dealing with thier more interesting behavior.

2.) It depends on the degree of advantage/disadvantage given to a special unit, if as you describe a unit just never routes becuase historicly it did not route during that battle then I would take issue. If a unit is given, say, a bonus to passing route checks due to it's training and experience then I can understand.

3.) As above this depends on the scale of the conflict being represented for broad scale wargames covering the period of an entire war I can see major battles taking place other than thier historical locations due to the decisions made by the players earlier in the war. For tactical games like ASL and Panzer Grenadier (Lock & Load, etc...) I like having historical scenarios, but I do not think I'd have a problem with generic ones either. Often times my opponent and I will read the historical background to help us get in the mood, and it's just plain interesting to read at times.

I like wargames that give players historicly accurate starting positions and perhaps replicate external forces on the battle (arrival of supplies. reinforcements, weather, etc..) in a historicly accurate manner but do not force the decisions made by the player to those made by the commader the player is supposed to represent.

And that's another thing, I like wargames where I feel that I'm at some level of the command structure, I'm filling someone's historical boots so to speak. In an ASL game I may be a company or battalion commander, or maybe I'm General Eisenhower in a theatre level WWII game... you get the idea.
 
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Mark Mahaffey
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thesama wrote:

1.) This depends on the scale of the conflict being represented, If I'm supposed to "be" that commander then no, I don't want rules that hinder me, if these are commanders under me in the chain of command then I don't mind dealing with thier more interesting behavior.


My thought precisely. If I am supposed to be Burnside when he was in command (say a Fredericksburg game)I don't want special rules limiting me. If I'm playing an earlier situation where he's still somewhere below me, you can reflect his inane nature all you want.
 
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Phillip Heaton
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No matter how hard you try, you can't simulate everything. Battles have been won or lost on trivial or unexpected things that would be impossible to simulate. Even if you tried, would you want to effectively win or lose a battle based on an event table randomly saying you won or you lost? Therefore, the game should come first. It should be enjoyable to play, otherwise why are we playing it. That being said, war games are about you taking command and facing the decisions that the commander you are standing in for would have faced. The game needs to simulate the battle well enough that is possible.

This leads me to believe that:

1) There should be no limitations on what you may do that would not have been limitations if you had actually been in command. You should not be as stupid, hesitant or brilliant as the actual commander was. I have no problems with there being optional rules to simulate this, so that people who want to study the battle can do so; I just don't think those limitations should be mandatory. Limitations that are built into the command structure, supply problems and lessor commanders whose foibles were know before the battle should be included.

2) Anything that calls for 20-20 hindsight should also be an optional rule. We know that the Iron Brigade wouldn't rout, but did the commander know that on the day of the battle? He may well have known that it was an elite unit (or did he), but he couldn't have known how well it would perform that day, on that battlefield.

3) There is nothing wrong with variant situations being explored, but you have to ask yourself, would you buy a game called Hanover, Turning Point of the Civil War? That is why most "what if" situations involve units that might have made it to the battle or other changes that would be easy to implement. Extra maps are rare. That being said, there is nothing wrong with you studying the situation and creating a map to be used with the original game. Avalon Hill used to do this with some of their games, such as the Coral Sea variant for Midway. If it works well, you might even publish it on the internet, like some of the variant maps for Railroad Tycoon.

4) A tactical game like ASL usually has to go with maps that aren't historical, because when you get to that level of play it may be difficult to figure out what was a historical map. Did that building collapse before or after the battle? How much debris or larger items were in the street when the battle was fought? Sometimes you may not even know important facts like was the stream dry or what crops were in the field.
 
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Scott Henshaw
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mwindsor wrote:

1. Would you prefer not having special rules that help or hinder commanders? (ie. would you rather play an Antietam game and assume that all leaders are pretty much the same, or do you want special rules that account for all those annoying fools and laggards?)

If you do not hinder the Union at Antietam, there is not much of a game. The Union would just crush the Confederates on the battle field. The Union Generals' incompetence needs to be addressed in order to make this a game at all.
I do not mind some 'chrome' to make a game more 'historical' as long as the game is good and the extra rules do not bog down the game (or rulebook!). I think an Antietam game without a way to reign in the Union forces would not play very well.
I do believe that some games force the special rules too much, in order to make the game play to the historical outcome. This usually is due to an improper design for the battle/war being depicted. My wish is that a well designed war game could achieve the historic results, but also will allow a different strategy or tactic to be used and end in a historically plausible ending.
There are several Gettysburg campaign games where the big battle does not have to take place in Gettysburg. There are a few "what if?" battles set in that era including Lee attacking Pittsburgh, with Grant leading his army, from their victory in Vicksburg, to defend Pittsburgh. For some reason, those non-historic games do not interest me very much. I can see how others would love to try them out.
ScottH.


 
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Donald Wilbur III
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I like to think that a game should be able to produce a historical result. It may require the player to limit their options somewhat to achieve that result. But what I really want is a feel of the limitations that the commander at the game level would have been historically held to.

If for example, I'm playing a grand strategic game of the ACW, I want the rules to give me the same kinds of limitations and options that Lincoln or Davis would have had.

At the same time, I don't want to have to check the rule book every 5 minutes for exceptions. The history should be built into the game in a straight forward fashion. Anything overly fiddly should be relegated to an optional rule. In a World War I game it's not too complicated to disallow Turks and Bulgarians from crossing each other's borders, but rules that require units or victory points on a given front to be constantly counted and recounted take away too much from gameplay.
 
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Frank McNally
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[q="mwindsor"]


3. Would you be willing to put up with historic units in an ahistoric
situation? (ie. would you be willing buy a game [or at least a set of maps] that had the armies meeting at Hanover, Pennsylvania rather than Gettysburg? To look at it another way, should a game like ASL have historic maps and scenarios, or generic ones?)

q]

Certainly, how else could you play out what-if like a Warsaw Pact - Nato conflict?
 
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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However "realistic" wargames try to be, the games will always reflect the historical biases and understandings of the author(s)/designer(s). What gives rise to many variants, special rules, and house rules are the biases and understandings of the players that they can't find (because they're often abstracted)or wishg to insert (because they are left out) in their new game.

The results often seem to me somewhat myopic and skewed-- often missing the point of a game's perspective or scale. (Adding sniper rules to an operational-level game, for example. Or inserting historical colonels and generals into a squad-level game).

Most simply add another layer of chrome. Some attempt to model extreme/fluke situations that happened historically as if they were repeatable events. Or go as far as to change fundemental things like the map, command and control, even combat resolution. All try give voice to players who want to put their own stamp on a favorite subject and its representative game.

That's not necessarily bad as far as playing a game goes. But the more complex the (war)game, the more such changes come across like on-going revisionism in an unfinished historical work. I take it all with a grain of salt.



 
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Hunga Dunga
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WonderCinz wrote:
I like my war games to have some connection to history...
That's not to say I want my war games to be rigid simulations.


There it is in a nutshell!

Recreating, exploring or reliving (or re-writing) history within a fluid game construct is what I want, and the best games offer this.

Depending on the battle, if you don't have some restrictions, you don't learn very much. In addition to the fun of wargames, a good game will allow you to learn "Oh, so THAT'S why General Muckedy-Muck did that!"
 
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Mike Windsor
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Quote:
There is nothing wrong with variant situations being explored, but you have to ask yourself, would you buy a game called Hanover, Turning Point of the Civil War? That is why most "what if" situations involve units that might have made it to the battle or other changes that would be easy to implement. Extra maps are rare.


Do you think that game maps too often force players into the same outcome as actually occurred? For example, because of where reinforcements arrive, every Gettysburg game I've played runs something like this: (a) Union forces try to keep Confederate forces from the historical "fish hook" features, (b) if the Union player was sucessful, he never attacks again, and the Confederate player attacks one of the ends of the Union line, (c) if the Union player held, the Confederate player has to choose between Picket's Charge, another falnking attack, or withdrawal. I think that if you "turned" the map, the two sides would simply reverse rolls.

Just an observation: one of the promises of computer wargames is that you could march your armies around, and then fight the tactical battles where ever they happened. I don't think that this promise has been met. The Total War series of games comes closest, and I have to admit that its a blast to array your army in an unknown field, and have at it. Board wargamers seem less accepting of the notion of alternate maps (which I sort of view as the "random battle generator" of boardgames). I don't know if its a price and practicality issue, or whether the boardgamers just don't like the idea of alternate maps when their time investment is a bit more (set up, clean up, etc) than just sitting down at the computer and clicking a few buttons.
 
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Kevin Brown
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It's tricky to do simulations. Very often there are very solid reasons that a given battle or war went one way or the other that had nothing to do with the skill of the commanders.

The larger the scale of the simulation, the more this comes into effect. There's no way the axis wins a total war scenario in any realistic WWII grand strategy sim. OTOH, turning it into Diplomacy-with-chits doesn't capture the essence of the war either. At that level the wars are defined in large part by the personalities of the national leaders. Without some rules constraints to keep the players at least partly on the same track, there's no chance of getting results that are reasonably historical.
 
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Tor Iver Wilhelmsen
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Maybe it's easier on designers if they don't deviate much from history? An example: if the game's events allow von Stauffenberg to place his bomb at a better spot than next to a solid table leg, maybe Hitler dies in 1944. But then the designer needs to think of the "what if" situation that this event generates: Do the Germans sue for peace when their worshipped leader dies? Or do the generals dance to "ding dong the Witch is dead" and improve strategy and tactics, no longer encumbered by the inputs from a medicated demagogue?

It's easier to go with the known events.
 
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Barry Kendall
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My preference is to have rules provided that re-create the significant obstacles to perfect operations in the battle or campaign being represented. If supply constraints were a serious consideration, then supply rules are needed (imagine a North Africa game without them). This does not necessarily mean that the precise quantity of supply received day by day need be modeled in the design; I want to play a game, not count jerrycans.

If weather, terrain, road capacity, troop or horse fatigue, and communications were an issue, then I like to see them represented in the system.

If the real commander was hobbled by considerations of green troops, questionable subordinates or interference from higher echelons, then these, too, are factors to include.

Keep in mind, too, that in order for one player to experience the situation faced by his/her real-life predecessor, the game might necessarily impose constraints on the other.

For example, one poster cited Fredericksburg. If I'm Ambrose Burnside and there are no constraints on me, I don't commit the AoP at Fredericksburg at all. If, however, my friend is playing Lee and we want to re-fight the battle as Lee, Longstreet and Jackson saw it, then Burnside's forces must attack--and they must attack under some constraints reflecting the piecemeal commitment and uncoordinated support issues that plagued AoP in that action.

Such a design allows more flexible Union play as well simply by playing with reduced constraints.

Regarding unit capabilities, some units were simply exceptional and were used by their commanders in ways that reflect their quality--Iron Brigade is a good example. Such high-value units should be few in number generally and their use should not dominate a large-scale design, but part of the pleasure I derive from playing many games is become acquainted with the peculiarities, for good or ill, of my army.

It is also important to reflect less positive considerations in the mind of a commander, such as the impetuous nature of Napoleonic-era British cavalry when committed in a charge (manifested repeatedly in the Peninsula, and most famously in the charge of the Union Brigade at Waterloo).

I make a distinction in "ahistorical" situations. It's one thing to set a Warsaw Pact army loose after an amphibious assault on the DelMarVa peninsula--how did they get there? Where's the Navy and Air Force? What is their objective, Perdue Chicken Ranch? Such a game would have even less validity than the old "NATO, Nukes and Nazis."

It's quite another to postulate an alternative sequence of events within the realm of reason--for example, Lee abandons his line of communications, concentrates the army at Bridgeport and Harrisburg, then fans out north and east to disrupt rail communications between the Northeast and Ohio and to destroy coal mining in eastern Pa while living off the land (it has been argued that this was Jackson's and Lee's strategic vision developed over the winter of '62-'63 which resulted in the June '63 invasion of the north). I would like to see such a game, or at least see a Gettysburg Campaign game with maps that extend far enough to permit the possibility.

A game on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would seem incomplete if it did not provide scenarios that make provision for various levels of alert on the part of the defenders--from sleeping (historical) to "at quarters" with planes scrambling (response to radar warning or the USS Ward's submarine report) to "Ready" (fleet sorties, aircraft at altitude, guns manned, carriers searching for Japanese fleet). After all, the actual Japanese commander had to live with all these possibilities.

I suppose the succinct distinction would be between "ahistorical" and "alternative-historical."
 
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Severus Snape
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Much of this sounds familiar. When you are done exploring the excellent questions raised here, come and contribute to the earlier discussion where I use For the People as the focal point for beginning a discussion of ACW leadership. goo
 
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Darrell Pavitt
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In answer to your sub questions:

1) Leader differences add a certain flavour, at a cost in realism: You can see immediately who is good and who is bad, while in real life any leader could have a good or bad day (and be damned or hero worshipped thereafter), and many leader's abilities were unknown (even to themselves) right up to that point. Personally, I would go with modifiers that still allow a 'bad' leader to get the job done, and a 'good' leader to screw up, but for this to be less likely than the 'historical' result.

2) Any unit should have the possibility of breaking, but 'elite' units should be more resistant.

3) Depends on what you're simulating. If you are simulating Gettysburg, no (the geography and arrival of troops determined the flow of battle). There is nothing wrong with ahistorical but possible battles, although purists often complain that this or that couldn't happen.
If you're simulating ACW tactics, you can use historical maps or scenarios or create generic battles. Most people want at least a semblence of history- thus, ASL scenarios are often based on real events albeit on generic maps.
(I wrote a lot bitching about special rules that shoe-horn historical events into game systems that are unable to produce historical events due to flawed design. Then I erased it, 'cos it was flawed.)shake
 
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Barry Kendall wrote:
For example, one poster cited Fredericksburg. If I'm Ambrose Burnside and there are no constraints on me, I don't commit the AoP at Fredericksburg at all. If, however, my friend is playing Lee and we want to re-fight the battle as Lee, Longstreet and Jackson saw it, then Burnside's forces must attack--and they must attack under some constraints reflecting the piecemeal commitment and uncoordinated support issues that plagued AoP in that action.


In situations like this, well-thought-out Victory Conditions can make or break a game.
 
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Richard H. Berg
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Two factors to consider (at least two of the many that I do)

1. Everybody wants somethign different . . . so trying to please everyone is futile.

2. What is the game's Focus? What, as designer, are you trying to show? (The poijnt, above, about sniper's in an operaitonalk-level game is en pointe . . .)

I try in my games (and, again ,depending on the Focus and level of detail) to place the players in the frame of mind of the actual participants. Reality? There is no Reality in historical boardgames . . . the players simpyl are NOT operating under the contrsaints, fears and pressures that the actual participants were . . .and there is no way to reproduce such atmosphere.

RHB
 
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