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Subject: BGG Wargame Designer of the Month: Philip Sabin rss

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Hunga Dunga
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This month's BGG Wargame Designer of the Month is Philip Sabin.

Mr. Sabin has been a wargamer for over 40 years, and became Professor of Strategic Studies at King's College London's War Studies Department. Over the past 20 years, he has published several board games on ancient warfare through the Society of Ancients. In 2007, his book 'Lost Battles' was published, reconstructing three dozen different ancient battles using a common rules system. A deluxe board game edition was published by Fifth Column Games in 2011. In 2012, his book 'Simulating War' was published, containing eight different simple wargames which he has used in his military history classes. One of these (Hell's Gate) was published in a deluxe edition by Victory Point Games in 2013, and VPG has just published a second game from the book (Angels One Five).

Besides using wargames to help his BA students to understand conflict dynamics, since 2003 Mr. Sabin has been teaching a very innovative MA option module in which students design their own simple board games of past conflicts of their choice. Many of these are available for free download (Google 'Sabin consim'). He also writes regularly for 'Battles' magazine, and works closely with defense wargamers in the UK and overseas.

 


Since 2013, he has been co-organising the annual 'Connections UK' conference at King's College, which brings together over a hundred wargames professionals from around the world. The proceedings are available at http://professionalwargaming.co.uk/.

M. Sabin has invited us to sit down over glasses of diluted apple and blackcurrant cordial and talk about wargames.

Please give him a warm BGG Wargame Sub-domain welcome!
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Ron A
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Welcome Prof Sabin! If you had been a visiting professor at my alma mater 30 years ago I'm not sure my heart would've been able to withstand the excitement.

I love your book Simulating War, and now I have to go flip through it to try and stimulate my brain into asking a worthy question.
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Welcome Dr Sabin! Really excited to see you here, and look forward to the exchange!

(PS Thanks so much for your Nightfighter Solo Module!)
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I'd like to welcome you as well, Dr. Sabin, and say that the timing is perfect for me - I bought Lost Battles: Forty Battles & Campaigns of the Ancient World when it first came out, but hadn't managed to get it onto my game table until a couple of days ago.

I knew when reading the Lost Battles rules that you were a man after my own heart. The roll for extra command points when the initially allocated points fall to 0 or 1 jumped out at me. I had independently come up with essentially the same thing when writing some variant rules for another game back in 2010, and seeing that our ideas were simpatico in even that small way pleased me immensely.
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Welcome and congratulations Dr Sabin.

I enjoy Lost Battles: Forty Battles & Campaigns of the Ancient World immensely, and also enjoyed very much reading your book on how to organize wargames in the classroom.

I believe your plea for more simplicity in wargame design should be heeded by more people within the community.
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Bravo! Dr. Sabin's Hell's Gate is one of my favorite little games. Deep and instructive while still fitting within my busy lifestyle.

Question for Dr. Sabin: Will we be seeing more games of similar scale and scope to Hell's Gate, using the same system and of comparable production value? Or are the game's systems too closely tied to the particular lessons it aims to teach to be of broader application?


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Congrats Professor! I love the work you do, using wargames as they are meant to be used in the strictest sense, as a means of teaching and learning about conflict.

I really do love the alterations you made to Nightfighter to make it suitable for solitaire play!
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Requete wrote:
Bravo! Dr. Sabin's Hell's Gate is one of my favorite little games. Deep and instructive while still fitting within my busy lifestyle.

Question for Dr. Sabin: Will we be seeing more games of similar scale and scope to Hell's Gate, using the same system and of comparable production value? Or are the game's systems too closely tied to the particular lessons it aims to teach to be of broader application?


I'd like to second this. Great game that really demonstrates armoured combat.
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Hi Dr. Sabin, your work has always been fascinating to me. I also agree with your plea for simplicity. My question to you wouldn't be about a specific work of yours, but rather, the following:

Do you think there are any ways, that haven't been explored yet, to bring fog of war (the loss of orders and cohesion and coordination, misinformation, lack of terrain knowledge, etc) into a two-person tactical (or grand tactical, where counters equal platoons not squads) level hex-and-counter WW2 combat game?

I'm finishing Atkinson's second book in his liberation trilogy and you'd be hard-pressed when reading about the SNAFU at all levels to imagine how anything at all got done during combat operations.

Thank you.
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Hello all,

Many thanks for your kind comments. Yes, I am pleased with Hell's Gate, especially after the six simultaneous games which we played in class 10 days ago, and which I describe on the game's BGG site. I have thought about possibly using the system in future to explore the southern prong of the Kursk offensive 6 months earlier, but I have had no time to pursue this idea yet, so don't hold your breath!

One thing that has diverted me is the new VPG edition of Angels One Five, with which I am very pleased. The BGG page is again already very informative, thanks to John Harvey's tireless contributions. I hope that we will be able to develop expansion sets for the USAAF and for the Pacific War, but this depends on sales of the main game.

Lost Battles is still very much alive, and we have played several games of Ilipa and Cannae over the past fortnight. Again, see the BGG page for pics and details.
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Given how many tactical games have been published over the past several decades, I hesitate to suggest that there are ways of modelling the fog of war which have not already been tried!

The fashion now is, of course, to use randomised impulse-based activation rather than Igo-Ugo to make such games less calculable. I am actually less taken than some others are with this approach. The result is often to leave forces activated early in the turn artificially 'spent' and vulnerable to unactivated forces, and to dilute the disadvantage which moving forces have when advancing into the LOS of static and unseen defenders. I have an article on this topic forthcoming in the next issue of Battles magazine, when that finally sees the light of day!

The simple way to model confusion and unpredictality indirectly without the clumsiness of hidden units and plotting is, of course, to randomise fire effects and perhaps even move distances using die rolls. The trouble is that, although the results are very realistic, the abstraction and luck dependence of the process can put off players who see their tactical skill undermined by unlucky die rolls.

I fear that I do not have the 'Holy Grail' solution to modelling this aspect of tactical combat, though I will certainly continue to search for it in my future designs!

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Credit where credit is due. I think it was Charles Vasey who suggested delaying the command die roll in Lost Battles until only 1 or 0 normal commands were left, to avoid too much precise pre-planning of command allocations. This is a great example of how a very simple sequencing change can achieve the kind of effects I have just been talking about. In my Fire & Movement system, the equivalent is having fire resolved after movement, so that platoons must commit themselves to advancing before they know whether friendly suppressive fire will actually work.
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pagsab wrote:
The simple way to model confusion and unpredictality indirectly without the clumsiness of hidden units and plotting is, of course, to randomise fire effects and perhaps even move distances using die rolls.
Roll to move!
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Coincidentally I almost added Simulating War to a recent book order, since I've often read good things about it - now I wish I had!

Well, meanwhile I look forward to reading your insights in this thread, Prof Sabin.

Hungadunga wrote:
pagsab wrote:
The simple way to model confusion and unpredictality indirectly without the clumsiness of hidden units and plotting is, of course, to randomise fire effects and perhaps even move distances using die rolls.
Roll to move!
It's interesting how few wargames use randomized movement allowances. I immediately think of Stonewall Jackson's Way and its sequels, but not many other examples.

(Sadly I have not played any of the games of our esteemed Designer of the Month - do any of them use randomized movement allowances?)

I guess the reasons for the scarceness of such games include:

* Stigma attached to anything which smells even remotely like the "roll and move" mechanism of simple Monopoly/Clue-type games.

* Randomized movement allowances perhaps conflict with the desire for strategic "chess-like" exact planning of maneuvers by many players.

* Perhaps a feeling that in a wargame, combat resolution is more "interesting" or "important" than movement/maneuver, so that players are more willing to add overhead (rolling dice & calculating) & complexity to combat resolution than to movement resolution...?

* Perhaps a (mistaken?) belief that movement, unlike combat, is sufficiently deterministic, so that randomness doesn't belong in it...?
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Welcome Dr Sabin! its really interesting to read your future plans.
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russ wrote:


* Randomized movement allowances perhaps conflict with the desire for strategic "chess-like" exact planning of maneuvers by many players.
And this is the odd one, isn't it?

Everything I've ever read about combat (and I'm finishing Atkinson's second book in his liberation trilogy right now) says the generals may plan/assume and want to push through and move their units five miles at the end of the day, and wind up moving the whole front 500 yards instead (and some don't even get past the jump off line) due to slaughter.

Stiffer resistance from more defenders than intelligence led them to believe, inadequate terrain knowledge (there are ridges in Italian mountain ranges?), internecine bickering and poor coordination, artillery that was devastating, lack of control of higher ground, clogged and narrow roads under vicious sweeping fire, entire battalions being chewed down to a few hundred men, air power that didn't really cut rail lines as hoped, etc.

This is the stuff that needs modelling so why not random movement to represent some of these? That's what real-world generals faced. Why do we want such silly non-realistic games where everything (except for the final dice roll on a CRT) goes exactly to micromanaged plan? No friction? Everything works perfectly except for rolling a 6 for an exchange despite 2-1 odds?
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DaveyJJ wrote:
russ wrote:


* Randomized movement allowances perhaps conflict with the desire for strategic "chess-like" exact planning of maneuvers by many players.
And this is the odd one, isn't it?
Absolutely. What's even odder is that our tabletop historical miniature wargame brethren have tackled this ages ago and a lot (I'd say even most) current rulesets feature variable movement of one sort or another - usually linked to command & control.

Why boardgame designers for the most part fail to steal .. ahum, I meant borrow some of the excellent design choices from these rulesets is beyond me.
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russ wrote:
It's interesting how few wargames use randomized movement allowances. I immediately think of Stonewall Jackson's Way and its sequels, but not many other examples.



I guess the reasons for the scarceness of such games include:

Better reasons are:

* It doesn't do a good job of simulating what really happens.
* Other rules, such as command control rules, terrain rules, weather rules, and even setting the movement allowance in the first place, do a much better job.
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DaveyJJ wrote:
russ wrote:
* Randomized movement allowances perhaps conflict with the desire for strategic "chess-like" exact planning of maneuvers by many players.
And this is the odd one, isn't it?

Everything I've ever read about combat (and I'm finishing Atkinson's second book in his liberation trilogy right now) says the generals may plan/assume and want to push through and move their units five miles at the end of the day, and wind up moving the whole front 500 yards instead (and some don't even get past the jump off line) due to slaughter.

Stiffer resistance from more defenders than intelligence led them to believe, inadequate terrain knowledge (there are ridges in Italian mountain ranges?), internecine bickering and poor coordination, artillery that was devastating, lack of control of higher ground, clogged and narrow roads under vicious sweeping fire, entire battalions being chewed down to a few hundred men, air power that didn't really cut rail lines as hoped, etc.

This is the stuff that needs modelling so why not random movement to represent some of these? That's what real-world generals faced. Why do we want such silly non-realistic games where everything (except for the final dice roll on a CRT) goes exactly to micromanaged plan? No friction? Everything works perfectly except for rolling a 6 for an exchange despite 2-1 odds?
Why not? Because it does a bad job of modelling what really happens. A lot of the things you mention are combat-related, not movement per se. You don't model a unit taking losses by cutting its movement allowance; you reduce its combat strength or remove it from play.

I doubt very much that if you looked at the distances travelled by units not in contact with the enemy, over similar terrain, when trying to move as far as possible, you'd find that the results are uniformly distributed (a single die), or even binomially distributed (multiple dice). I would guess that you'd see something like a horiontally-flipped Poisson distribution, with a peak just short of the maximum possible distance, and a long tail towards the shorter distances. You might try to model that by randomly reducing a fixed movement allowance by a little bit, but don't forget that the discrete nature of wargame maps, at least those with hexes, takes care of some variation in distances moved. How often has a unit not been able to move one more hex because it doesn't quite have enough movement points to make it?

Command control rules, terrain rules, supply rules, weather rules, zones of control, and other rules all do a better job than die rolling of simulating actual movement rates.
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eddy_sterckx wrote:
DaveyJJ wrote:
russ wrote:
* Randomized movement allowances perhaps conflict with the desire for strategic "chess-like" exact planning of maneuvers by many players.
And this is the odd one, isn't it?
Absolutely. What's even odder is that our tabletop historical miniature wargame brethren have tackled this ages ago and a lot (I'd say even most) current rulesets feature variable movement of one sort or another - usually linked to command & control.

Why boardgame designers for the most part fail to steal .. ahum, I meant borrow some of the excellent design choices from these rulesets is beyond me.
Lots of board wargames have command control rules that can restrict movement, and have had for decades.
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tms2 wrote:
DaveyJJ wrote:
russ wrote:
* Randomized movement allowances perhaps conflict with the desire for strategic "chess-like" exact planning of maneuvers by many players.
And this is the odd one, isn't it?

Everything I've ever read about combat (and I'm finishing Atkinson's second book in his liberation trilogy right now) says the generals may plan/assume and want to push through and move their units five miles at the end of the day, and wind up moving the whole front 500 yards instead (and some don't even get past the jump off line) due to slaughter.

Stiffer resistance from more defenders than intelligence led them to believe, inadequate terrain knowledge (there are ridges in Italian mountain ranges?), internecine bickering and poor coordination, artillery that was devastating, lack of control of higher ground, clogged and narrow roads under vicious sweeping fire, entire battalions being chewed down to a few hundred men, air power that didn't really cut rail lines as hoped, etc.

This is the stuff that needs modelling so why not random movement to represent some of these? That's what real-world generals faced. Why do we want such silly non-realistic games where everything (except for the final dice roll on a CRT) goes exactly to micromanaged plan? No friction? Everything works perfectly except for rolling a 6 for an exchange despite 2-1 odds?
Why not? Because it does a bad job of modelling what really happens. A lot of the things you mention are combat-related, not movement per se. You don't model a unit taking losses by cutting its movement allowance; you reduce its combat strength or remove it from play.

I doubt very much that if you looked at the distances travelled by units not in contact with the enemy, over similar terrain, when trying to move as far as possible, you'd find that the results are uniformly distributed (a single die), or even binomially distributed (multiple dice). I would guess that you'd see something like a horiontally-flipped Poisson distribution, with a peak just short of the maximum possible distance, and a long tail towards the shorter distances. You might try to model that by randomly reducing a fixed movement allowance by a little bit, but don't forget that the discrete nature of wargame maps, at least those with hexes, takes care of some variation in distances moved. How often has a unit not been able to move one more hex because it doesn't quite have enough movement points to make it?

Command control rules, terrain rules, supply rules, weather rules, zones of control, and other rules all do a better job than die rolling of simulating actual movement rates.
But you mentioned 4 types of rules that add more complexity and fiddliness that could be dealt with in one die roll. Some might prefer your way, clearly others like the variable movement system in GCACW, and in several miniatures rules.
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To get back to the reason for this thread...Mr. Sabin, I read and enjoyed Lost Battles a great deal, and have begun reading Simulating War. Do you have any other books in the pipeline?

Also, you mentioned your Fire and Movement system. I'm not familiar with it. Is it used in already published games, or is it a new project? Or is this the name of the Lost Battles system and I'm just too dense to know that?
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pagsab wrote:
Credit where credit is due. I think it was Charles Vasey who suggested delaying the command die roll in Lost Battles until only 1 or 0 normal commands were left, to avoid too much precise pre-planning of command allocations. This is a great example of how a very simple sequencing change can achieve the kind of effects I have just been talking about. In my Fire & Movement system, the equivalent is having fire resolved after movement, so that platoons must commit themselves to advancing before they know whether friendly suppressive fire will actually work.
Charles' suggestion was acknowledged in the Lost Battles rules, which is what led me to check the dates on the thread where I posted my version of the rule. Charles had thumbed that thread, which made me wonder whether it might have planted a seed which made its way to you, or whether he was (like me) simply recognizing a fellow traveler. It's an excellent technique for muddying the waters which seems obvious in retrospect; I wouldn't be at all surprised if its first use could be traced back to Donald Featherstone or earlier.
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tms2 wrote:

Why not? Because it does a bad job of modelling what really happens. A lot of the things you mention are combat-related, not movement per se. You don't model a unit taking losses by cutting its movement allowance; you reduce its combat strength or remove it from play.

I doubt very much that if you looked at the distances travelled by units not in contact with the enemy, over similar terrain, when trying to move as far as possible, you'd find that the results are uniformly distributed (a single die), or even binomially distributed (multiple dice). I would guess that you'd see something like a horiontally-flipped Poisson distribution, with a peak just short of the maximum possible distance, and a long tail towards the shorter distances. You might try to model that by randomly reducing a fixed movement allowance by a little bit, but don't forget that the discrete nature of wargame maps, at least those with hexes, takes care of some variation in distances moved. How often has a unit not been able to move one more hex because it doesn't quite have enough movement points to make it?

Command control rules, terrain rules, supply rules, weather rules, zones of control, and other rules all do a better job than die rolling of simulating actual movement rates.
I find myself agreeing with much of what you've said. I'm curious though, are you referring primarily to tactical scale games? What are your feelings on variable movement allowances (with the range determined by commander rating) in operational game like GCACW and Washington's Crossing. In particular, regarding the latter, I felt the use of a modifier-heavy 1d6 variable movement table with 4 columns for leader ratings did a really great job in managing to factor in command ability, communication, weather (i.e. +2 for snow shows it doesn't always snow the same amount or that some troops might navigate it better), and (perhaps most importantly) graduated fatigue. Though in smaller scale tactical games like NBS, I agree that the more concrete C3 rules are more effective than variable movement rates.
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russ wrote:
(Sadly I have not played any of the games of our esteemed Designer of the Month - do any of them use randomized movement allowances?)

I guess the reasons for the scarceness of such games include:

* Stigma attached to anything which smells even remotely like the "roll and move" mechanism of simple Monopoly/Clue-type games.

* Randomized movement allowances perhaps conflict with the desire for strategic "chess-like" exact planning of maneuvers by many players.

* Perhaps a feeling that in a wargame, combat resolution is more "interesting" or "important" than movement/maneuver, so that players are more willing to add overhead (rolling dice & calculating) & complexity to combat resolution than to movement resolution...?

* Perhaps a (mistaken?) belief that movement, unlike combat, is sufficiently deterministic, so that randomness doesn't belong in it...?
I think having a base movement allowance for the army which is extended by a variable amount only after use provides the best of both worlds. Rolling to move each unit individually feels too chaotic (as a commander you should have some idea of what you can accomplish) but being able to plan every move in advance provides an unrealistic level of control. The hybrid approach used in Lost Battles feels right.
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