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Subject: Balancing Victory in D-Day at Tarawa rss

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John Butterfield
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I really appreciate the devotion shown to D-Day at Tarawa by players on BGG and Consimworld. I’ve reviewed many game reports and concerns about difficulties winning the two-day scenario, sometimes due to swings of bad luck with events.
Here is a proposed set of five adjustments to address these issues. Feedback welcome.

5.0 HQ units not eliminated by amphibious landing
5.12, the “U#” paragraph, last sentence should read: “An X result means all non-HQ steps are lost.”
The last sentence of 5.13 should read: “HQ units are not eliminated by landing results, and an HQ possesses no steps for purposes of assessing losses to other units.”

14.2 Definition of secure position
Change the second requirement for securing a position to read “all position hexes projecting intense fire into that hex are also occupied by US units or garrisons.”
[Note for players of other games in the D-Day series: I will also be proposing this change for D-Day at Peleliu, but not for D-Day at Omaha Beach.]

17.0 SP Engineers and support markers
Change to 17.0: Each eligible SP engineer step provides a support marker. Thus, an eligible SP engineer unit with two steps provides two support markers.

18.2 Victory check at Turn 30
The first bullet should read: “You win the scenario if you have secured all position hexes in three island zones and at least 10 position hexes in a fourth island zone.”

Counterattack Event
This event can occur no more than once per game. Treat this event as “No Event” if a Japanese counterattack has already occurred.
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Martin Åkerlund
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First of all: thank you for making these games. D-Day at Omaha Beach is one of my favourite games of all time (35 years of gaming!).

I will definately try your suggested changes as soon as I've finished my playthrough of DDaP. It's easy to see that these adjustments will fix a couple of the issues (I had) with the game.

JohnButterfield wrote:
5.0 HQ units not eliminated by amphibious landing
5.12, the “U#” paragraph, last sentence should read: “An X result means all non-HQ steps are lost.”
The last sentence of 5.13 should read: “HQ units are not eliminated by landing results, and an HQ possesses no steps for purposes of assessing losses to other units.”
This is no doubt a good change.


JohnButterfield wrote:
14.2 Definition of secure position
Change the second requirement for securing a position to read “all position hexes projecting intense fire into that hex are also occupied by US units or garrisons.”
[Note for players of other games in the D-Day series: I will also be proposing this change for D-Day at Peleliu, but not for D-Day at Omaha Beach.]
Will have to playtest to see how much of an impact it will have. My initial feeling is it will help just enough.


JohnButterfield wrote:
17.0 SP Engineers and support markers
Change to 17.0: Each eligible SP engineer step provides a support marker. Thus, an eligible SP engineer unit with two steps provides two support markers.
This one I'm not so sure about. First of all, I'm not sure it's needed with the changes to 14.2 and 18.2.

Either way, in my opinion, this is not the best way to address the issue of the "uber important" engineers. The suggested adjustment will definately make the game easier, but not in a good way. Considering SP's can also be used to remove disrupts and to add free actions, I can envision some really underwhelming playthroughs on those occasions where you're lucky enough to have 8-10 steps of support engineers around.

What I would like to see is the same challenge but with less luck involved, which is why, in another thread, I suggested adding the rule from DDaP that lets HQ's add garrisons within their command radius. This would give the player a fair chance even with few SPs while at the same time avoiding ending up in an "easy mode" situation should most SPE's be active.


JohnButterfield wrote:
18.2 Victory check at Turn 30
The first bullet should read: “You win the scenario if you have secured all position hexes in three island zones and at least 10 position hexes in a fourth island zone.”
Again, I'm not sure it's needed if other adjustments are made. I'm also a little concerned about the fact it will make the northwestern section of the map unimportant. While I'm not that fond of the original design decision to only give the G landings a couple of turns to make an impact, with this change they have no purpose whatsoever. Also, trying to make something out of the R1 landings will also be almost entirely pointless. It will always be easiest just to go for B, D, E + 10 x C positions every time.

As a sidenote I find it unfortunate that the game wasn't 32-34 turns long. That in itself would have taken care of a couple of issues.


JohnButterfield wrote:
Counterattack Event
This event can occur no more than once per game. Treat this event as “No Event” if a Japanese counterattack has already occurred.
I still think this event has too much impact. I have suggested giving depth markers only to units that are actually assaulting. This will still make the counter attack very deadly, but won't add a ton of depth markers everywhere on the map.

Lastly, one of my biggest gripes is the CC system. When it works, it's tense and rewarding but when it doesn't, it's frustrating and annoying. It works better in DDaP where it's easier to maneuver to cut communication. In this game there are too many close combats where the CC card draws can become an issue. I would really want a rule change that said that the CC: reinforce could only happen when a japanese card is drawn.
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Paul Dodds
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John, your support for your games is fantastic and I'm really pleased that you've taken on board some of the concerns we've had with the toughness of DDaT!

I'm going to try these suggestions over the weekend. I really like Martin's idea of the CC Reinforce action only being applied for Japanese cards but I won't use that with all of your suggestions in order to get a proper feel for your suggestions.

My instinctive feeling is that using your suggestions apart from modifying the Support rules and using Martin's tweak to CC might make for a challenging and slightly less frustrating game. But I'll keep trying that for another game.
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Paul Dodds
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I played through the Two Days in Hell scenario at the weekend, and here are my thoughts.

5.0 HQ units not eliminated by amphibious landing
This is definitely a keeper. Losing an HQ makes it pretty much impossible to win, even with these modified victory conditions.

14.2 Definition of secure position
Another keeper as it makes victory a bit more attainable. When playing the Two Days in Hell scenario it makes it much more likely to survive the Turn 15 victory check.

17.0 SP Engineers and support markers
This had the biggest impact on the dynamic of play. I was averaging 6-7 support markers a turn. This had the consequence of:

1. It nullified the Japanese "I" action. I was able to place enough Garrisons to prevent any infiltration occurring during the game.

2. For most of the middle period of the game once the Command Posts were established, and with the changes to 5.0 you are now guaranteed both CPs, I was finishing turns with unspent US Actions because I had nothing to spend them on.

3. Apart from the occasional turn where I needed to place a lot of Garrisons I was generally able to remove all my Disrupted markers.

Interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, none of these felt like they made victory more attainable. The fact that I lost my game seems to bear this out. Not having to worry about Actions or disrupted US units in the mid game didn't have any noticeable effect on the vagaries of close combat. I had thought that being to shake off disruption after a close combat ended with exhaustion and jump back in whilst the Japanese were still disrupted might give me some advantage. But the reality was that the CC attacks were still at the mercy of the cards even with the US getting to play first because of the Japanese disruption. In fairness my luck with the cards wasn't great for this particular game so it might take a few more games to get a proper feel for this modification. One thing was certain: whilst it was kind of nice not having to worry about any Japanese infiltration it did remove an element of tension from the game.

18.2 Victory check at Turn 30
I definitely like these new conditions. I did end up losing my game because of dreadful luck with my landings and combat on R1, but probably up to Turn 27/28 it felt like victory might be attainable, and this generated excitement and tension. And my defeat was just shy of a couple of positions so it felt close. With the old victory conditions I probably would have abandoned the game much earlier with a sense of hopelessness.

Counterattack Event
One is bad, more is devastating! I definitely like this modification.

I still like Martin's idea of modifying the Reinforce CC event. This can be a killer, and if the cards go against you, can be a deal breaker. Drawing a few during a CC (or worse, more!) is a real source of frustration. His suggestion of only applying Reinforce events on Japanese played CC cards apply would be interesting. Or perhaps even limiting it to just one Reinforce event being possible for each instance of CC? Or one Reinforce event being applicable for US played cards and another for Japanese played cards during a CC?

I definitely like these changes, and I can't see me playing the game without using them. I think I need to play a few more games to get a proper feel for 17.0, but I think that I would gladly sacrifice that particular change for an adjustment to the Reinforce event.
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Kurt R
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Kyuss wrote:
I played through the Two Days in Hell scenario at the weekend, and here are my thoughts.

...

I still like Martin's idea of modifying the Reinforce CC event. This can be a killer, and if the cards go against you, can be a deal breaker. Drawing a few during a CC (or worse, more!) is a real source of frustration. His suggestion of only applying Reinforce events on Japanese played CC cards apply would be interesting. Or perhaps even limiting it to just one Reinforce event being possible for each instance of CC? Or one Reinforce event being applicable for US played cards and another for Japanese played cards during a CC?

I definitely like these changes, and I can't see me playing the game without using them. I think I need to play a few more games to get a proper feel for 17.0, but I think that I would gladly sacrifice that particular change for an adjustment to the Reinforce event.
Thanks, Paul, that's a very interesting report. This conversation has rekindled my interest in Tarawa but EA: Ardennes is in the way at the moment so I can't take it for a test spin at the moment.

It does seems like Martin's instincts were right about the support markers modification. He and I were both focused on nerfing CC and now you as well. I think there's something there that needs to change. I like his idea of not allowing CC Reinforce on US card pulls and only on Japanese. I think it's easy enough to implement too rather than "one per CC." My idea was 'attacker attacks first' but may be too much in conjunction with his idea.
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Martin Åkerlund
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I've played Two Days in Hell twice with the suggested adjustments and my experience is very similar to what Paul reported in his post above.

In my first playthrough I had a terrible first few turns and I would probably have started over if I hadn't been telling myself I was "playtesting". The changes to 14.2 resulted in a game that lasted longer than 15 turns (15 secured positions would have been 8 with the original rule). Now, in this case I'm not sure it was such a good thing since I already had too many early losses to be able to win the game.

My second playthrough started much better and to be honest should have resulted in my first victory. I generally drew terrible event cards and had some key CC situations go sour, but the main reason I didn't win was simply bad planning in the late game. (That said, it was sort of funny that the very last event card drawn in the game in turn 30 was a tunneling event. Just as a final FU..).

My conclusion from these two playthroughs are almost identical to Paul's:

5.0 HQ units not eliminated by amphibious landing
A good and necessary change.

14.2 Definition of secure position
I like this change too. Simple, but makes victory more attainable.

17.0 SP Engineers and support markers
I'm still undecided. It definately helped both my playthroughs but at the same time changed the feel of the game quite a bit. It felt odd at times to have 6-7 actions/turn and never to have to worry sbout disruptions.

18.2 Victory check at Turn 30
I agree with Paul's conclusion to some extent, but would also be very interested to get his take on my concerns about the resulting unimportance of the R1/G landings and how he handled the northern part of the island.


I will probably play once or twice more with these suggested changes, then another couple adding my suggested changes to CC and the Counterattack event. (Then again I also feel a need to get back to failing DDaP. Decisions, decisions..)
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Martin Åkerlund
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I've played four more times with the intent to further evaluate the suggested changes. Unfortunately, I wasn't lucky enough to feel it was worthwhile to continue past turn 16 any of the playthroughs and only once did I continue past turn 6.

This sort of highlights the problem I have with this game - there's far too much luck involved. I realise this criticism isn't very constructive, but I just wanted to put it out there. Maybe I'll eventually figure out a way to house rule it to my satisfaction.

Now, I'll have another go at DDaP. That game's only major problem atm is the Victory Conditions, and that shouldn't be nearly as hard to fix.
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John Butterfield
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Martin -- thanks for your reports and comments.

What elements in Tarawa make it more luck driven for you than Omaha Beach or Peleliu? Forgive me if you explained this elsewhere.
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Matt
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John,

Please consider this approach: making these changes an “historical variation” with historical caps that players could choose to play with (like your optional rules) to assure a more balanced game, in contrast to the “semi-historical” variation (the current version). In other words, the historical cap would put caps on wildly bad things that could have happened at Tarawa, but didn't. For example, if historically no HQs were lost in landings, then the U.S. couldn't lose any HQs in landings; if half the LVTs were lost in the first day, with the historical version, the U.S. couldn't loose more than half their LVTs the first day; if there was only one historical counter-attack, then the Japanese could only counter-attack once, etc. The caps would be a clean approach that wouldn't require changing the rules themselves.

While I certainly respect those players who want to see an option where they don't get an unwinnable game because of bad luck, I personally like a solitaire game that allows for all the outcomes that could have happened, even if that means I might end up in an unwinnable position due to no fault of my own—solitaire games allow for this in ways that two-player games do not, and for me it creates a richer experience and greater appreciation for what, in this case, the U.S. Marines were actually facing.

Thanks for considering this,
Matt
 
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Martin Åkerlund
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JohnButterfield wrote:
Martin -- thanks for your reports and comments.

What elements in Tarawa make it more luck driven for you than Omaha Beach or Peleliu? Forgive me if you explained this elsewhere.
John,

Thank you for asking.

I'm bringing up some of the issues I have with this game in an earlier post in this thread, but I will make an attempt to sum them all up here.


What makes DDaT feel more random and luck driven?

The short version: the landings, (some of the) card events, close combat combined with the difficulty to cut Japanese communications and the importance of support engineers.

Some of the criticism I've seen stem from the perceived lack of tuning of these random elements. If the challenges are felt to be too randomly difficult or luck based, it's harder to get that satisfying feeling you get when you steadily improve your gameplay.


The slightly longer version:

The landings.
Contrary to the other D-Day games, the difference between good and bad landings is huge. In Omaha and Peleliu you will get ashore with few losses and few or no delays.

The card events.
A Japanese counter-attack, LVTs unavailable or unit entries delayed during the critical early stages of the game can cripple your efforts, especially if the landings are average or worse. In Omaha, events with similar impact don't occur until after turn 20. In Peleliu, you'll be ashore in force no matter what.

Close Combat and Japanese communications.
Close combat is arguably the most random and luck based event in the game. Fortunately this can be mitigated somewhat by cutting Japanese communications. Unfortunately, this is typically very difficult to do during the most critical part of the game. In Omaha, there's no close combat. In Peleliu, cutting communications is generally less difficult.

Support engineers.
This was also touched on in the earlier post. In short: SPEs are critical to the outcome of the scenario, but their fate is determined to a significant degree by random occurances.o No similar units exist in Omaha and Peleliu (except HQs, but they are significantly harder to kill).


Well, that's me trying to keep it brief and to the point...



Martin

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Kurt R
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I'll piggyback a bit here. It's been several months since I played but I had way more aborted plays than recorded ones due to getting wiped out. It was frustrating for me to reset the game, invest a few hours, and get just past halfway through only to get wiped out by some really bad luck.

At first I attributed it to my inexperience, but I finally had to conclude after about 15 recorded and aborted plays that the game doesn't reward good play. Sure, you can do better than you otherwise would, but in the end it really didn't matter how well I played because of how capricious the game could be. You would need the best of luck in a) landings, b) Fire cards, c) close combat, and d) events to achieve the stringent victory conditions. I'd do well (with luck) in some areas one game and not others then reverse the situation in the next.

Brastias wrote:
The slightly longer version:

The landings.
Contrary to the other D-Day games, the difference between good and bad landings is huge. In Omaha and Peleliu you will get ashore with few losses and few or no delays.
Yeah, I took to giving myself a mulligan on some of the landing results as they could be devastating. As this is my only experience with a DDaX game, I like the sound of other games giving you a better chance to land in force.

Quote:
The card events.
A Japanese counter-attack, LVTs unavailable or unit entries delayed during the critical early stages of the game can cripple your efforts, especially if the landings are average or worse. In Omaha, events with similar impact don't occur until after turn 20. In Peleliu, you'll be ashore in force no matter what.
Even the ones where you get a US hero add depth to Japanese units and I would groan as I felt the depth marker was worse than my getting a hero. I felt the need for some "One Quiet Night" cards where you get a respite.

Quote:
Close Combat and Japanese communications.
Close combat is arguably the most random and luck based event in the game. Fortunately this can be mitigated somewhat by cutting Japanese communications. Unfortunately, this is typically very difficult to do during the most critical part of the game. In Omaha, there's no close combat. In Peleliu, cutting communications is generally less difficult.
This was my biggest gripe with the game. Japanese always fire first in CC and have some devastating events. Cutting communications requires you to survive two turns adjacent to an enemy; not very likely.

Quote:
Support engineers.
This was also touched on in the earlier post. In short: SPEs are critical to the outcome of the scenario, but their fate is determined to a significant degree by random occurances.o No similar units exist in Omaha and Peleliu (except HQs, but they are significantly harder to kill).
Yeah, you keep them on the beach for their support effect but that makes them susceptible to artillery fire.

I'll sum up by saying I felt I couldn't get a handle on any one part of the game. I couldn't find something that reliably worked for me. I tried being deliberate with a lot of suppressing fire and then CC'ing the next turn. I tried being more aggressive by CC'ing the weaker coastal units without suppressing fire. It'd work for a while but then my luck would inevitably turn. I couldn't find that go-to lever as some part of the game would obviate what I thought was good, deliberate play on my part.

Where I want to look first is the following: 1) If perhaps I could fire AND close combat on the same turn then I could count on an enemy being suppressed when I want to CC. I would disrupt an enemy so I could CC next turn but they'd lose the disruption marker so I'd disrupt them again only to have them shake it off. By then I'd lost the opportunity I previously had. 2) Close combat should either have the attacker attack first or Japanese events only happen on Japanese CC cards. The Japanese replenish so easily and US reinforcements are so sparse that the bloodiness of CC strongly favors the Japanese. The player needs some kind of edge here.

I realize these games are meant to be hard and the battles they represent were bloody and chaotic. What I'd like to see though is that I can improve my ability at the game and actually get better without having to rely on the rarest of luck.

Thank for listening.
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Martin Åkerlund
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I understand that gameplay changes ideally shouldn't stray too far from the current rules and be easy to put into a couple of sentences in an addena.

That's one reason I like the suggestions that Kurt brought up. I want to repeat them below along with another couple of changes that have been suggested previously. In my opinion they "tune" some of the random elements but still fit nicely in an addena.


Change: The CC:Reinforce event only applies if the Japanese draw the card, like CC:Heroism.

Motivation: A subtle change that makes sense and that helps tune the difficulty of one of the more frustrating parts of the game.


Change: Allow an attack and a close combat against the same unit in a turn.

Motivation: The original rule and the one that's currently in place in DDaP. It may not have such a big impact in itself, since the U.S. will have a hard time assembling enough troops to do both actions against one position in one turn. Still it's something that's easy to implement and helps tune down the random difficulty somewhat.


Change: during the japanese counter-attack event, only add depth markers to units that are actually in position to assault U.S units. Alternatively, only add depth markers to units performing the assault action.

Motivation: the counter-attack event usually results in several assaults where the Japanese not only have the advantage of being in communication and attacking first, they also receive an additional card for being the attacker. This in itself is a potentially devastating event. To also add depth markers to half the Japanese positions on the map is too powerful in my opinion.


Change: make wading speed 3 hexes per turn (5 hexes from turn 11).

Motivation: whether troops end up in a LVT wreck hex or lack transports altogether, the number of turns they are away from combat are critical. The added movement essentially cut the delay from 4-5 turns to 3-4.


None of these changes address the SPEs or some of the other harsh card events because that would likely require changing more than a few lines of rules text. I had a suggestion where HQs could be used as in DDaP to create garrisons, thereby tuning down the importance of SPEs. However, while it's a minor gameplay change, I realise it might require too much of a rule rewrite.

Ideally, I would like to see enough small adjustments to be able to use the original Victory Conditions. The "new" ones balance the game but remove the importance of a whole chunk of the map (RB1 and Green).

In a parallel universe, in addition to the suggested changes, I would have liked to see this game with the same quality components as DDaP, have another couple of turns added to the turn track and have the SPEs set up engineer bases that are hindered but not eliminated by Japanese fire.

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Cole Dano
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Martin, that sounds like exactly the right starting place and those were also the same thoughts I had playing the game.

Of course it remains to be seen if that is enough, but it certainly takes a huge part of the "aww, come on" factor away.

Maybe the only other one, is what John suggested, HQ's always make it to shore. But, IMO, the casualties the Marines took that day are one of the key features of this battle and shouldn't be tweaked too much.
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