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Subject: Should game mechanisms and victory conditions be based on historical choices or good choices? rss

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Øivind Karlsrud
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Let me explain what I mean. In Twilight Struggle it is taken as a given that the domino theory was right, even though the designers (AFAIK) admits it has been discredited. The idea is to inspire historical choices, even though those choices may have been bad ones. I haven't played Fire in the Lake yet, but I think it might be an example of the opposite. IIRC, the US wins by gaining support from the population. I'm reading 'A Bright Shining Lie' at the moment, and from that book I understand that there were americans who wanted to focus on pacification (i.e. gaining support from the population). John Paul Vann (whose biography the book is, more or less), and the leaders in the Marine Corps, among others. But Westmoreland wanted to focus on an attrition strategy, and since Westmoreland was the commander that was what they did. So it seems to me that Fire in the Lake rewards the US player for doing what they should have done, not what they did.

Whether or not my analysis of Fire in the Lake is right, I hope it serves to illustrate what I think are two different approaches to making historical games. I must admit I'm a bit biased in favor of the first approach, but see the merit of both. The first approach inspires the player to make historical choices, and may be better at recreating history, while the second approach is probably better for studying what might have been, if better choices had been made. To me, it is more important that a game stays close to history as it happened. I think of games mainly as entertainment, and want them to recreate recognizable stories from history. But as an educational/analytical tool for future decision makers, I certainly see the merit of the second approach. It wouldn't be a good idea to teach them how to make historical mistakes all over again. It is my impression that Volko Ruhnke has designed the COIN-games to educate players about COIN-operations in general, not just to recreate history.

BTW, I still think I will like Fire in the Lake, even if my analysis of it turned out to be correct, and even though I said I prefer the first approach. With Mark Herman and Volko Ruhnke I'm sure it will be both entertaining and educational.

Which approach do you prefer, and why?
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Jason Cawley
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I prefer reality, which is mostly history as it looked to the commanders at the time. Most of the "should haves" invented by revisionists after the fact have little basis in reality, and are generally political tendentious, I told you so, tail covering, spin, partisan, and the like.

Pretty much anything the designer thinks he knows better than the commanders at the time on such subject, my money is on the commanders at the time understanding correctly, and on all later designers being, not to put too fine a point on it, partisan and foolish when they think they know better. Dollars to donuts they don't know better, either history or strategy.

More humility, less selling or pushing of an "angle" after the fact, from designers. The things they think they know that just flat are not true, will dominate and wreck the game most of the time, otherwise.

One man's opinion...
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Lance McMillan
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Reality must be viewed through the historical context of what the "players" at the time knew and understood to be true. Too frequently designers apply facts to a game that their historical counterparts had little to no knowledge of (e.g. in a game on Midway the Japanese player "knows" that his opponent is aware of the impending operation, which historically they didn't; in a game on Waterloo the French player "knows" that the Prussians are likely to show up on his right flank when he begins the battle, while historically Napoleon was unaware of that possibility).

In the OP's example with Twilight Struggle, I would argue that the US player should be working from the premise that the domino theory was valid because that was the mindset of the time. Where the design could be considered as failing (or at least be somewhat deficient) is that it operates from pretty much the same perspective for the Soviet player as well, rather than putting him into a "revolutionary uprising" theory viewpoint (or whatever doctrinal theory the Soviets were operating under at the time).
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Quote:
Should game mechanisms and victory conditions be based on historical choices or good choices?


These simulation design narratives can be influenced by a factor often overlooked during the development of a wargame:

Who exactly does the player represent?

A field commander might have one idea of what his "victory conditions" are while the political leadership might have another goal in mind.
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Øivind Karlsrud
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JasonC wrote:
I prefer reality, which is mostly history as it looked to the commanders at the time. Most of the "should haves" invented by revisionists after the fact have little basis in reality, and are generally political tendentious, I told you so, tail covering, spin, partisan, and the like.

Pretty much anything the designer thinks he knows better than the commanders at the time on such subject, my money is on the commanders at the time understanding correctly, and on all later designers being, not to put too fine a point on it, partisan and foolish when they think they know better. Dollars to donuts they don't know better, either history or strategy.

More humility, less selling or pushing of an "angle" after the fact, from designers. The things they think they know that just flat are not true, will dominate and wreck the game most of the time, otherwise.

One man's opinion...

But if you take Fire in the Lake and the Vietnam War as an example, we are not just talking about the designer's opinion. I think pretty much everyone today agrees that Westmoreland's mindset was dead wrong. We do know better than the commander at the time (Westmoreland). This is not revisionist history, this is something historians pretty much agree on (I haven't read many history books about Vietnam, but I'm quite sure most of them would confirm what I'm saying). Historians pretty much agree that the domino theory was bonkers too, AFAIK. The question is, should we use the mindset of the commanders at the time as guidelines for how to win the game, even though we mostly agree that mindset was wrong?

Another example: In the designer's notes to Empire of the Sun, Mark Herman discusses the victory conditions, and how Japan probably had no chance of winning, but that the (unrealistic) hope that the US could be forced to the negotiating table was still used as a victory condition. Again, saying that Japan couldn't win isn't revisionist history, quite the opposite, it's established history. The idea that the US could be forced to negotiate probably was wrong, and again: We do know better than the commanders of the day. But the idea that the US could be forced to the negotiating table is still used in the game.

In general, I agree that we should use the mindset of the commanders of the day, but not because they knew better than we do now.
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pete belli wrote:
Quote:
Should game mechanisms and victory conditions be based on historical choices or good choices?


These simulation design narratives can be influenced by a factor often overlooked during the development of a wargame:

Who exactly does the player represent?

A field commander might have one idea of what his "victory conditions" are while the political leadership might have another goal in mind.

Yes, but with Fire in the Lake as an example, the difference isn't really between leaders at different levels. There were military commanders at various levels of command which believed in pacification, and there were of course commanders which believed in Westmoreland's attrition strategy. The same goes for political leaders. Westmoreland managed to convince Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara, but there were those who believed in pacification too. So whether or not a designer chooses to reward the US player for attriting the vietnamese, or whether or not he rewards the US player for gaining support from the population, is decided by whether or not he wants to recreate the war as it was fought by Westmoreland, or if he wants to explore how it could be fought (probably more successfully). I don't see that it has anything to do with what level of command you're looking at.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
In the OP's example with Twilight Struggle, I would argue that the US player should be working from the premise that the domino theory was valid because that was the mindset of the time. Where the design could be considered as failing (or at least be somewhat deficient) is that it operates from pretty much the same perspective for the Soviet player as well, rather than putting him into a "revolutionary uprising" theory viewpoint (or whatever doctrinal theory the Soviets were operating under at the time).

I have always felt that Twilight Struggle was based on the US mindset in the Cold War, not on the Soviet mindset. The paranoid feeling you get when the other player spreads his influence, and the attempts to contain him, reminds me of US thinking at the time. Isn't the containment strategy called Truman doctrine? To base the game on the US mindset of the time isn't necessarily a bad idea, but I think anyone who wants to use the game as an educational tool for teaching about the Cold War, should be aware of that.

In the same way, I felt when playing it that Labyrinth was also based on the mindset of the US adminstration at the time the game depicts. Just like any communist is part of a global communist uprising directed from Moscow in Twilight Struggle, the jihadists in Labyrinth are very united. I think the game is interesting as a study of the Bush administration's mindset, but it gives the impression that jihadists are much more united than they are. The designer's COIN-games seem like more realistic models to me. Even the COIN-games sometimes have to fuse several factions into one united faction, but they give the impression that there are several competing interests, and are thus much more interesting games for simulating political struggles than Twilight Struggle or Labyrinth (although I like Twilight Struggle more as a game).
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Jason Cawley
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Oivind - you are illustrating my point perfectly. The things you think that you know about the Vietnam war, better than the commanders at the time, and that you think as a later conventional wisdom just are or must be clearly right - simply aren't so.

You have no superior knowledge or authority in the matter, and that isn't specific to you personally. Present politically spun views of what mattered or didn't in that conflict are not objective truths. They are highly "spun" partisan tosh. That tosh being popular at the moment obscures that fact from many contemporaries, but that's just their own blinders. It is not the case that later blinders are smarter or better than the blinders at the time. They have no necessary tendency to be or to become so. And they *are* blinders, clearly detectable as such, with all the usual indicators of bias and partial perspective and interest, etc, that revisionism is always subject to.

Or take your comment that Japan couldn't possibly win in WW II. What if Germany won the war in Russia? Again, you have a conventional wisdom in the matter and you confuse its prevalence around you for its truth. My point, exactly, is that designers will fall into endless traps of this sort whenever they believe they know history radically better than the participants. They won't see their own biases; any error prevalent enough in their own day will distort their design, and will do so blindly.

Take a more extreme example, where the issue may be easier to spot than in a hard case like Japan in the Pacific war (where the conventional wisdom is more likely to be correct). Suppose someone makes a game about Barbarossa with the belief that reaching Moscow would automatically induce a Soviet collapse. He "justifies" this by tail covering post hoc counterfactuals from a few German commanders. Is he "correcting" a "mistake" that the commanders at the time made, or is he writing into the game and its victory conditions or political procedures a piece of self serving bias and "I told you so"'s, with no basis in fact? To me he would pretty clearly be doing the latter. And it doesn't matter how many people "believe" Moscow rather than Kiev after Smolensk, would have been a better decision. If the game design makes that call, it can't get the campaign right or let the simulation decide. It puts in the answer, and it is a biased answer. If that is garbage in, only garbage will come out.

One man's opinion...
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pete belli wrote:
Who exactly does the player represent?


Exactly, and this is the crux of the "problem," with players who have perfect 20/20 hindsight of the historical situation which the actual personalities at the time didn't. To some extent this is what I call "historical determinism," where the designer structures the game so that historical events that did occur must occur in the game, rather than allowing them to occur by happenstance or accident.

Some players prefer the events to follow the historical script (because it rained on 17 June 1815 it *MUST* rain on that day during the game) while others prefer situations like that, which were outside the direct control or knowledge of the commanders, to occur randomly to better capture the chaotic and unpredictable nature of warfare. Neither approach is necessarily "better," but the choice the designer makes will appeal more to some players than others.
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Øivind Karlsrud
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JasonC wrote:
Oivind - you are illustrating my point perfectly. The things you think that you know about the Vietnam war, better than the commanders at the time, and that you think as a later conventional wisdom just are or must be clearly right - simply aren't so.

You have no superior knowledge or authority in the matter, and that isn't specific to you personally. Present politically spun views of what mattered or didn't in that conflict are not objective truths. They are highly "spun" partisan tosh. That tosh being popular at the moment obscures that fact from many contemporaries, but that's just their own blinders. It is not the case that later blinders are smarter or better than the blinders at the time. They have no necessary tendency to be or to become so. And they *are* blinders, clearly detectable as such, with all the usual indicators of bias and partial perspective and interest, etc, that revisionism is always subject to.

Or take your comment that Japan couldn't possibly win in WW II. What if Germany won the war in Russia? Again, you have a conventional wisdom in the matter and you confuse its prevalence around you for its truth. My point, exactly, is that designers will fall into endless traps of this sort whenever they believe they know history radically better than the participants. They won't see their own biases; any error prevalent enough in their own day will distort their design, and will do so blindly.

Take a more extreme example, where the issue may be easier to spot than in a hard case like Japan in the Pacific war (where the conventional wisdom is more likely to be correct). Suppose someone makes a game about Barbarossa with the belief that reaching Moscow would automatically induce a Soviet collapse. He "justifies" this by tail covering post hoc counterfactuals from a few German commanders. Is he "correcting" a "mistake" that the commanders at the time made, or is he writing into the game and its victory conditions or political procedures a piece of self serving bias and "I told you so"'s, with no basis in fact? To me he would pretty clearly be doing the latter. And it doesn't matter how many people "believe" Moscow rather than Kiev after Smolensk, would have been a better decision. If the game design makes that call, it can't get the campaign right or let the simulation decide. It puts in the answer, and it is a biased answer. If that is garbage in, only garbage will come out.

One man's opinion...

Yes, one man's opinion, and I find it a strange opinion. You really believe someone in the middle of it, with no benefit of hindsight, actually knows better than a historian with 50 years of historical analysis to base his views on? If that is what you believe, I find it a strange view. It also would mean writing history books is a waste of time, because what possible value could be added to contemporary accounts, if the contemporaries always knew best? Except for making history more accessible to the public, of course.

No, the contemporaries did not know best. For one thing, they did not have access to their enemy's plans. The historian does. And I think almost any historian on the Vietnam War would tell you that Westmoreland's strategy was flawed, because he failed to understand what it would take to win. In fact, he was proven wrong, by losing the war. So how you can say that he knew better than a historian today, seems absurd to me. And that is what you seem to be saying.

I'm not sure what you're trying to say with your example on Moscow. Using contemporary ideas which most historians today believe to be wrong as guidelines for victory conditions, is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. What are you trying to say with that example?
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Lance McMillan
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oivind22 wrote:
I'm not sure what you're trying to say with your example on Moscow. Using contemporary ideas which most historians today believe to be wrong as guidelines for victory conditions, is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. What are you trying to say with that example?


Because if you DON'T use that as a victory condition for the German player, there's virtually no chance he can ever win the game. Not many people want to play a game where they can't win.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
pete belli wrote:
Who exactly does the player represent?


Exactly, and this is the crux of the "problem," with players who have perfect 20/20 hindsight of the historical situation which the actual personalities at the time didn't. To some extent this is what I call "historical determinism," where the designer structures the game so that historical events that did occur must occur in the game, rather than allowing them to occur by happenstance or accident.

Some players prefer the events to follow the historical script (because it rained on 17 June 1815 it *MUST* rain on that day during the game) while others prefer situations like that, which were outside the direct control or knowledge of the commanders, to occur randomly to better capture the chaotic and unpredictable nature of warfare. Neither approach is necessarily "better," but the choice the designer makes will appeal more to some players than others.

For the record, I'm not talking about historical determinism. I'm talking about whether we should use the model the contemporaries had in mind or the best model we can come up with today's knowledge, when we design a game. Should we reward the player for thinking like the decision makers did at the time, or should we reward him for doing what we now think would have been a good decision? Making weather deterministic is certainly not a way of rewarding the player for thinking like the historical commander did. It's not even a way of rewarding the player for making the same historical decisions, unless the historical commander made the right call with regards to the weather. With determnistic weather, the player will never make the wrong call. The merits of making games scripted and deterministic or not is an interesting discussion, but not the one I had in mind.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
oivind22 wrote:
I'm not sure what you're trying to say with your example on Moscow. Using contemporary ideas which most historians today believe to be wrong as guidelines for victory conditions, is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. What are you trying to say with that example?


Because if you DON'T use that as a victory condition for the German player, there's virtually no chance he can ever win the game. Not many people want to play a game where they can't win.

Yes, this is just another example of using the contemporaries' ideas as guidelines for designing a game, even though we know better with hindsight. It seems to support my case, that's why I'm confused about what Jason is trying to say with this example.
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Lance McMillan
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In some ways this topic is dealing as much with "fog-of-war" as it is historical choices.

Take a game on Napoleon's invasion of Russia: the French player is operating under the assumption that if he takes Moscow or St.Petersberg the Russian player will lose the game. He manages to do just that on the September 1812 turn, only to have his opponent play a "The Czar Fights On" card (or some such event); suddenly the French player's entire strategy for the game is rendered invalid.

Some players will accept that sort of thing, others won't. It's all a matter of expectations and perceptions: what is "real" history and what is historical revisionism?

If you go back and look at AH's classic Midway, which was released well before information about the US Navy's MAGIC intercepts were made public, and compare it to, say, Victory at Midway, which was released after the impact of code-breaking on that battle was common knowledge, which is the more "accurate" game (ignoring all the other aspects of the hobby's art which have changed since then)? Neither game specifically addresses MAGIC, but there are elements of its impact obliquely built into Victory at Midway that influence the flow of that game. How far down the "historical" rabbit-hole a game goes is a matter of designer choice; how much it's accepted by players is a different matter entirely.
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Jason Cawley
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Contemporary game designers are men. They have a specific job description, which isn't general officer nor is it even professional historian. There are extremely unlikely to know other men's fields of expertise as well as their own, or as well as those other men know theirs. They are lucky if they know their own job - game design - and if they are mot such hopeless incompetents in those other areas as to wrecked their own games. They are most likely to make that sort of mistake precisely where they think they understand everything, where they believe all is clear and settled and simple, and they know it all. They are also most likely to be flamingly wrong were their opinion on a subject is so common in their own day and their own circles - nation, party, school of thought, etc - that they cannot even imagine the contrary on any given subject, and are shocked that anyone coukd have the temerity to disagree with them. Because that is a nearly infallible sign of a shallow and unconsidered opinion, decided on unconsciously, without ever having even heard any contrary case.

I can put it into canons.

If a game designer ever thinks he is going to teach his players the right view of anything, he is practically certain to be wrong. This is especially true for any party or national or political view, but it is also true of strategy or military principle.

The actual participants are practically certain to have had a superior knowledge of the events in which they took part than any later person of any qualification or description, in at the very least a large number of questions, many of which will escape even the notice and awareness of the designer, or even of all later historians combined. If you doubt it, I offer a simple example. Is colonel Whosist an out and out wuss? You can't tell me events don't sometimes turn on such things; it is a fact that they do. You can't tell me the historian in the perfect safety of his armchair 3000 miles away 50 years later knows such things better than men on the spot who will live or die in the next twenty minutes based on the answer, will ever know it as they know it.

So first the designer must drop his arrogance vis a vis the participants. It is nothing but his pride. Yes he will know some things better than they knew those sane things. But he has no idea whether the things he thinks he knows better are the more important ones, or even whether what he thinks he knows better is actually the case, a solid half of the time.

Even an historian must start there, but a game designer is not an historian.

The important participants in historical strategy matters are also, most of them, trained military officers, some with a vastly deeper understanding of the art of war than the entire profession of history can boast, let alone thsn game designers possess. Normal what happens when an historian tries to pass a judgment on a matter of military strategy is that his opinions are shallow and blind. He is practically captive of the opinions of other military men, then or since. He sits an ignorant judge amid a learned dispute and tries to call balls and strikes on their respective arguments, holding up his supposed knowledge of what he thinks happened as his strike zone. But at least as likely as calling any of that fairly, he will reflect the prejudices of his party, or nation, or favored cause. What he actually knows about strategy wouldn't suffice to light a zippo, but he does not know this. He thinks an outcome that he thinks he knows is dispositive in the matter, but it is not. His imagination of counterfactuals is very narrow and crude, and he cannot judge what is or is not feasible from a given military situation or juncture. He reports that white made this move and four moves later black won a piece, and thinks that is the war. But he is an amateur, and if you show himhe chess master's commentary he will flat disbelieve it. He cannot even imagine anyone knowing such things.

So, next point, humility before superior military minds. Unless a designer is saturated with a sense of the huge gulf that separates his own pedestrian understanding of such things from masters, he will make a hash of it.

But we aren't even close to done. Even more vital than humility before the participants, the designer needs humility before the *players*. Not all, but the best of them, will be on the same plane as the greatest military minds. Not all, but some of them, will know the relevant history as well or better than the entire profession of historians. Some of them will have actually *done*, in real life, the things the designer is merely struggling to depict with bits of paper and cardboard. They will use the designer's game in ways he cannot possibly foresee ahead of time. The best of them have scads to teach the game designer about every aspect of the subject matter, including even his own job description of game designer.

This means that the game designer should drop the arrogance. He should know in his bones that he is not a movie director, or a professor, or a teacher, or a commander. All you are doing is trying to design a solid game, for the use and benefit of other men, many of them far more learned and intelligent than you, about the subject of your game.

The minute a game designer decides instead that he knows everything and sets about teaching what he thinks is true, his game becomes worthless to all the worthy potential audiences above. He may entertain shallower players. He may teach a few conventional half truths to some more than usually ignorant players. But the best will never be able to get out of his game anything *smarter* than the skew and bias he troweled into it after making that decision.

Re Moscow, a good game should let commanders far superior to the designer determine whether Kiev is a better decision than Moscow, in complex interplay with the best response or riposte that a rival mind of equal power can devise to refute that decision. In that clash of giants, the role of the game designer is simply to get out of the way. His opinion in the matter is not even wanted, and if his game is biased on the point his game is just wrong. The players, not the designer, not historians - and the international grandmasters among the players, not the tyros trying it out for the first time - are in charge of such things.

One man's opinion.
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oivind22 wrote:

Let me explain what I mean. In Twilight Struggle it is taken as a given that the domino theory was right, even though the designers (AFAIK) admits it has been discredited....

....I haven't played Fire in the Lake yet, but I think it might be an example of the opposite. IIRC, the US wins by gaining support from the population. I'm reading 'A Bright Shining Lie' at the moment, and from that book I understand that there were americans who wanted to focus on pacification (i.e. gaining support from the population). John Paul Vann (whose biography the book is, more or less), and the leaders in the Marine Corps, among others. But Westmoreland wanted to focus on an attrition strategy, and since Westmoreland was the commander that was what they did. So it seems to me that Fire in the Lake rewards the US player for doing what they should have done, not what they did.


Which approach do you prefer, and why?


Wow! Preference? None really. Or perhaps the better response is that it is contextual. Your scope is so broad. Forty years of cold war to, potentially a battle of a few hours. Victory conditions for a short tactical battle are generally far easier to define than those for a decades long political struggle. Moreover, the random variables which could be experienced multiply radically given the length of time and number of parties involved.

I would argue that you postulate an improbable case which is that a game designer is in possession of indisputable facts about what the victory condition SHOULD have looked like and exactly what steps should have been taken to arrive at that point. Only then can mechanics be crafted to "reward" victory to the player who makes the "right" moves.

Games IMO are reasonably interesting and useful to learn about aspects of historic struggles but only in conjunction with much broader media such as books, articles and documentaries. Game mechanics are valuable as much for their entertainment value as for instruction. For instance, a game designer can faithfully introduce an order of battle with initial placement and phased arrival of reinforcements which reasonably approximates the event. This is historic but represents an "ahistoric" advantage to the opponent. Introducing variable set ups, altered unit values or locations of entry is not historic but, creates tension which may be more rewarding. In both cases, the players experience something of the historical event.

The two games you offer as examples are problematic IMO. I think the mechanics are not really suitable to be remotely considered "simulations". I would argue that no one would have won a nuclear exchange though such is possible in TS. Moreover, the ability of players to foresee and control the flow of events by hand manipulation (delaying card play, dumping to space race, choosing order of play) is unrealistic though very interesting as a narrative experience. Fire in the Lake does reward strategy but, the tempo is dictated more by the unique card mechanic than by player choice.

The Cold War included a global political struggle among a changing array of political leaders, allies, social movements and events. One could argue that the US "victory" was inevitable given it's material and technological advantages (just as they argue about the inevitability of Japans defeat) but this ignores that intervening events might have played out differently and exacted differing costs upon either sides political will.

I think it's worth considering that many war gamers have a variety of game titles on the same subjects or battles in large measure because differing mechanics make the experience interesting in different ways. If a certain basket of mechanics were "superior", this would be less likely. For this reason, I enjoy games in which lavish attention to detail has players typically trying out a narrow range of strategies (because that's how it happened) and also enjoy games where player are free to explore "what if" actions, especially where such things really did almost occur.

Where a designer does try to recreate lopsided engagements, it is rewarding to set the victory conditions based on beating the historical result rather than achieving an absolute and improbable victory.

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JasonC wrote:
I prefer reality, which is mostly history as it looked to the commanders at the time. Most of the "should haves" invented by revisionists after the fact have little basis in reality, and are generally political tendentious, I told you so, tail covering, spin, partisan, and the like.

Pretty much anything the designer thinks he knows better than the commanders at the time on such subject, my money is on the commanders at the time understanding correctly, and on all later designers being, not to put too fine a point on it, partisan and foolish when they think they know better. Dollars to donuts they don't know better, either history or strategy.

More humility, less selling or pushing of an "angle" after the fact, from designers. The things they think they know that just flat are not true, will dominate and wreck the game most of the time, otherwise.

One man's opinion...


However, if there were opposing opinions AT THE TIME, as given in the Fire in the Lake example, then I think "should haves" are fair game.
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I think both approaches have merit. That's why I love games with "what-if?" scenarios. They can coexist in the same game.
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JasonC wrote:
Contemporary game designers are men. They have a specific job description, which isn't general officer nor is it even professional historian. There are extremely unlikely to know other men's fields of expertise as well as their own, or as well as those other men know theirs. They are lucky if they know their own job - game design - and if they are mot such hopeless incompetents in those other areas as to wrecked their own games. They are most likely to make that sort of mistake precisely where they think they understand everything, where they believe all is clear and settled and simple, and they know it all. They are also most likely to be flamingly wrong were their opinion on a subject is so common in their own day and their own circles - nation, party, school of thought, etc - that they cannot even imagine the contrary on any given subject, and are shocked that anyone coukd have the temerity to disagree with them. Because that is a nearly infallible sign of a shallow and unconsidered opinion, decided on unconsciously, without ever having even heard any contrary case.

I can put it into canons.

If a game designer ever thinks he is going to teach his players the right view of anything, he is practically certain to be wrong. This is especially true for any party or national or political view, but it is also true of strategy or military principle.

The actual participants are practically certain to have had a superior knowledge of the events in which they took part than any later person of any qualification or description, in at the very least a large number of questions, many of which will escape even the notice and awareness of the designer, or even of all later historians combined. If you doubt it, I offer a simple example. Is colonel Whosist an out and out wuss? You can't tell me events don't sometimes turn on such things; it is a fact that they do. You can't tell me the historian in the perfect safety of his armchair 3000 miles away 50 years later knows such things better than men on the spot who will live or die in the next twenty minutes based on the answer, will ever know it as they know it.

So first the designer must drop his arrogance vis a vis the participants. It is nothing but his pride. Yes he will know some things better than they knew those sane things. But he has no idea whether the things he thinks he knows better are the more important ones, or even whether what he thinks he knows better is actually the case, a solid half of the time.

Even an historian must start there, but a game designer is not an historian.

The important participants in historical strategy matters are also, most of them, trained military officers, some with a vastly deeper understanding of the art of war than the entire profession of history can boast, let alone thsn game designers possess. Normal what happens when an historian tries to pass a judgment on a matter of military strategy is that his opinions are shallow and blind. He is practically captive of the opinions of other military men, then or since. He sits an ignorant judge amid a learned dispute and tries to call balls and strikes on their respective arguments, holding up his supposed knowledge of what he thinks happened as his strike zone. But at least as likely as calling any of that fairly, he will reflect the prejudices of his party, or nation, or favored cause. What he actually knows about strategy wouldn't suffice to light a zippo, but he does not know this. He thinks an outcome that he thinks he knows is dispositive in the matter, but it is not. His imagination of counterfactuals is very narrow and crude, and he cannot judge what is or is not feasible from a given military situation or juncture. He reports that white made this move and four moves later black won a piece, and thinks that is the war. But he is an amateur, and if you show himhe chess master's commentary he will flat disbelieve it. He cannot even imagine anyone knowing such things.

So, next point, humility before superior military minds. Unless a designer is saturated with a sense of the huge gulf that separates his own pedestrian understanding of such things from masters, he will make a hash of it.

But we aren't even close to done. Even more vital than humility before the participants, the designer needs humility before the *players*. Not all, but the best of them, will be on the same plane as the greatest military minds. Not all, but some of them, will know the relevant history as well or better than the entire profession of historians. Some of them will have actually *done*, in real life, the things the designer is merely struggling to depict with bits of paper and cardboard. They will use the designer's game in ways he cannot possibly foresee ahead of time. The best of them have scads to teach the game designer about every aspect of the subject matter, including even his own job description of game designer.

This means that the game designer should drop the arrogance. He should know in his bones that he is not a movie director, or a professor, or a teacher, or a commander. All you are doing is trying to design a solid game, for the use and benefit of other men, many of them far more learned and intelligent than you, about the subject of your game.

The minute a game designer decides instead that he knows everything and sets about teaching what he thinks is true, his game becomes worthless to all the worthy potential audiences above. He may entertain shallower players. He may teach a few conventional half truths to some more than usually ignorant players. But the best will never be able to get out of his game anything *smarter* than the skew and bias he troweled into it after making that decision.

Re Moscow, a good game should let commanders far superior to the designer determine whether Kiev is a better decision than Moscow, in complex interplay with the best response or riposte that a rival mind of equal power can devise to refute that decision. In that clash of giants, the role of the game designer is simply to get out of the way. His opinion in the matter is not even wanted, and if his game is biased on the point his game is just wrong. The players, not the designer, not historians - and the international grandmasters among the players, not the tyros trying it out for the first time - are in charge of such things.

One man's opinion.

When have I said that the the ideas put into a game should be based on the designer's ideas about history? That's not what I'm saying at all. I'm asking if it's best to let the game model the mindset of the decision makers of the time, or to make a model which is based on all the knowledge you can bring to bear. Do you let the domino theory work even though you think it really didn't (whether or not you believe in the domino theory is irrelevant, it's just an example), just because that's the way people were thinking at the time, or do you let the game be based on what you think were real effects. Based on any relevant expertise, of course. Military expertise too. But what are you trying to say, anyway? That there's a big disagreement between game designers, historians and military experts? Do you think military experts are going to support Westmoreland, because they share some military knowledge which is impossible to understand for historians or the rest of us? What I really want to know is this: Are you saying that Mark Herman and Volko Ruhnke are arrogant for making a game (Fire in the Lake) that does not support Westmoreland's view? Making a game based on how the commander at the time were thinking, would mean making a game in which attrition was the goal. Are you saying that this is what Herman and Ruhnke should have done? Because in the end, Westmoreland knew best? Do you even think other military experts would support Westmoreland?
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Rulesjd wrote:
The two games you offer as examples are problematic IMO. I think the mechanics are not really suitable to be remotely considered "simulations".

Whether or not they are good as simulations doesn't matter. To illustrate my point better: If Fire in the Lake were to reward the player for following the historical strategy, victory should be based on Westmoreland's view of the war, and the goal should be attrition. I haven't played the game yet, but I would think that would be the natural thing to do if you want the US player to act historically. Instead, I think they have based the victory conditions on what they (and most people today, I think) was the real issue: The hearts and minds of the people in South Vietnam.

I may be wrong about Fire in the Lake, but those were the two approaches I wanted to discuss.
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JasonC wrote:
The important participants in historical strategy matters are also, most of them, trained military officers, some with a vastly deeper understanding of the art of war than the entire profession of history can boast, let alone thsn game designers possess.


I actually burst out laughing at this bit of nonsense. You're conflating two entirely different areas of expertise and trying to evaluate both under the same criteria.

As a retired military officer who served in a combat zone on two occasions, I can personally attest to the fact that many (if not most) of the senior officers I served with had nothing even vaguely approaching a "vastly deeper understanding of the art of war." Most senior officers in my experience are, first and foremost, politicians and personnel managers -- they're not experts on strategy, logistics, or any of the other supporting operational arts necessary to prosecute a war. Rather, they rely on their staffs to provide the expertise of orchestrating conflict, their job is to ensure those staffs are run effectively and efficiently.

I would argue that historians have a far better and more comprehensive understanding of the hows and whys of warfare than the actual participants ever do, because they're able to analyse the complete picture of what was going on rather than relying strictly on what imformation the commander might have had avilable to him at the time. That doesn't mean that historians could perform in the role of the on-scene commander (after all, those skill sets are radically different), but I'm also convinced that for the most part commanders couldn't perform well in the role of historian either.
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oivind22 wrote:
JasonC wrote:
I prefer reality, which is mostly history as it looked to the commanders at the time. Most of the "should haves" invented by revisionists after the fact have little basis in reality, and are generally political tendentious, I told you so, tail covering, spin, partisan, and the like.

Pretty much anything the designer thinks he knows better than the commanders at the time on such subject, my money is on the commanders at the time understanding correctly, and on all later designers being, not to put too fine a point on it, partisan and foolish when they think they know better. Dollars to donuts they don't know better, either history or strategy.

More humility, less selling or pushing of an "angle" after the fact, from designers. The things they think they know that just flat are not true, will dominate and wreck the game most of the time, otherwise.

One man's opinion...

But if you take Fire in the Lake and the Vietnam War as an example, we are not just talking about the designer's opinion. I think pretty much everyone today agrees that Westmoreland's mindset was dead wrong. We do know better than the commander at the time (Westmoreland). This is not revisionist history, this is something historians pretty much agree on (I haven't read many history books about Vietnam, but I'm quite sure most of them would confirm what I'm saying). Historians pretty much agree that the domino theory was bonkers too, AFAIK. The question is, should we use the mindset of the commanders at the time as guidelines for how to win the game, even though we mostly agree that mindset was wrong?

Another example: In the designer's notes to Empire of the Sun, Mark Herman discusses the victory conditions, and how Japan probably had no chance of winning, but that the (unrealistic) hope that the US could be forced to the negotiating table was still used as a victory condition. Again, saying that Japan couldn't win isn't revisionist history, quite the opposite, it's established history. The idea that the US could be forced to negotiate probably was wrong, and again: We do know better than the commanders of the day. But the idea that the US could be forced to the negotiating table is still used in the game.

In general, I agree that we should use the mindset of the commanders of the day, but not because they knew better than we do now.


The domino theory wasn't bonkers, it happened. It's called the Killing Fields Era and between 1975 and 1979 over 2 million Cambodian civilians were killed by the crackpot commie regimes installed by the North Vietnamese.

All the wrong people remember Vietnam, we didn't lose as a a military, we quit as a nation.
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The question does not really allow for a proper answer, both solutions have their merits. A game fails to be a simulation if it rejects the strategic mindset and attitude of the period, however it would fail to portray the situation if it allows a false idea to direct the game to a positive outcome.

I think what's needed is not a distinct choice between the two, but rather a balance. This may be one of the reasons wargamers tend to buy several games on the same subject, one may favor history and give a slightly different "feel" than the one that has a more open design.

Academy Games faced this problem when designing the upcoming CoH Guadalcanal game (which is scheduled to be released sometime in the last four years!). Why would the Japanise player want to launch a banzai charge if it does not achieve any tactical benefit and would waste troops? On the other hand, would a Guadalcanal game without banzai charges present an accurate depiction of the battle? Further, if the Japanise victory conditions discourage historical tactics then isn't that unfair to the American player, who, consequently, would not face the same decisions that his historical counterpart faced?

Academy solved the problem by eliminating the question. Traditionally games measure victory conditions as means to geopolitical ends; so capturing a crossroads in Normandy is good because it allows the invasion forces to push deeper into France, this would allow the Allies to recapture Paris and eventually push the Germans out of France altogether, which is an end in itself. In CoH:G the Japanise player measures his VP in honor, which means that acts of daring in addition to securing strategic objectives are rewarded with VP. Now the Japanise player is encouraged to act historically while allowing him to make his own tactical decisions.

Of course, there is nothing new under the sun and I'm sure this has been used before; but perhaps this method could be considered when a nations "victory philosophy" conflicts with what appears reasonable.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
JasonC wrote:
The important participants in historical strategy matters are also, most of them, trained military officers, some with a vastly deeper understanding of the art of war than the entire profession of history can boast, let alone thsn game designers possess.


I actually burst out laughing at this bit of nonsense. You're conflating two entirely different areas of expertise and trying to evaluate both under the same criteria.

As a retired military officer who served in a combat zone on two occasions, I can personally attest to the fact that many (if not most) of the senior officers I served with had nothing even vaguely approaching a "vastly deeper understanding of the art of war." Most senior officers in my experience are, first and foremost, politicians and personnel managers -- they're not experts on strategy, logistics, or any of the other supporting operational arts necessary to prosecute a war. Rather, they rely on their staffs to provide the expertise of orchestrating conflict, their job is to ensure those staffs are run effectively and efficiently.

I would argue that historians have a far better and more comprehensive understanding of the hows and whys of warfare than the actual participants ever do, because they're able to analyse the complete picture of what was going on rather than relying strictly on what imformation the commander might have had avilable to him at the time. That doesn't mean that historians could perform in the role of the on-scene commander (after all, those skill sets are radically different), but I'm also convinced that for the most part commanders couldn't perform well in the role of historian either.


Slow clap.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
JasonC wrote:
The important participants in historical strategy matters are also, most of them, trained military officers, some with a vastly deeper understanding of the art of war than the entire profession of history can boast, let alone thsn game designers possess.


I actually burst out laughing at this bit of nonsense. You're conflating two entirely different areas of expertise and trying to evaluate both under the same criteria.

As a retired military officer who served in a combat zone on two occasions, I can personally attest to the fact that many (if not most) of the senior officers I served with had nothing even vaguely approaching a "vastly deeper understanding of the art of war." Most senior officers in my experience are, first and foremost, politicians and personnel managers -- they're not experts on strategy, logistics, or any of the other supporting operational arts necessary to prosecute a war. Rather, they rely on their staffs to provide the expertise of orchestrating conflict, their job is to ensure those staffs are run effectively and efficiently.

I would argue that historians have a far better and more comprehensive understanding of the hows and whys of warfare than the actual participants ever do, because they're able to analyse the complete picture of what was going on rather than relying strictly on what imformation the commander might have had avilable to him at the time. That doesn't mean that historians could perform in the role of the on-scene commander (after all, those skill sets are radically different), but I'm also convinced that for the most part commanders couldn't perform well in the role of historian either.

FTW.
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