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Subject: Rate the chaos factor in these WWII games rss

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Rob Bailey
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I have been reading about many WWII games lately. Its interesting to see how they incorporate real world chaos into their systems. With Combat Commander being one extreme, could you put these in order of most chaos to most chess-like?

This should be fun. Thanks!

Combat Commander
Standard Combat Series
Operational Combat Series
Band of Brothers
Conflict of Heroes
D-Day at Omaha Beach
Enemy Action: Ardennes
A Victory Lost
Breakout Normandy
Squad Leader
ASL
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Jim Cote
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I haven't played half of these so I won't make suggestions. But it would be good to split the chaos randomness at least into 2 categories: lack of control, and crazy things happening. There is some of both of those in in all the ones I have played.
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Martin Gallo
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ekted wrote:
I haven't played half of these so I won't make suggestions. But it would be good to split the chaos randomness at least into 2 categories: lack of control, and crazy things happening. There is some of both of those in in all the ones I have played.
I will go with this rating and include a star system to indicate how much fun the game is: 0 is no fun and 5 is great fun.

Combat Commander: Lots of random, little control. I found almost no reason to play this game, so no stars (I do dearly love Up Front ).
Standard Combat Series: Lots of random on the CRT only.
Operational Combat Series: Lots of random mostly on the CRT only.
Band of Brothers: Still waiting to play. (No stars, though it does look like a fun game deserving of stars.
Conflict of Heroes: Lots of random in combat, some random in the cards.
D-Day at Omaha Beach: Lots of random in activation. (would be 5 stars but I get so lonely...whistle)
Enemy Action: Ardennes: Still waiting to play. Again, looks like a great game!
A Victory Lost: Still waiting to play, have heard the random is in the CRT
Breakout Normandy: Again, random in the CRT.
Squad Leader: Lots of random in the CRT, some random outside that (morale/rally). Used to be more, but I think the system is showing its age. The ASL starter kits are better, but still only about a stars worth.
ASL: Almost totally random. You can tell the troops where to go most of the time, but most of what happens after that is decided by 2d6 and what is rolled and when. (Too much silliness for me.)

I will add the ATS system of games and give that 5 stars. The randomness is spread through the CRT and some other combat related systems (similar to ASL, but less silliness involved, with added control over some aspects of morale (benefits for keeping units together rather than spawning half squads all over the place). Just a personal opinion.
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Rob Bailey
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Thanks Martin! Great reply!
 
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Combat Commander isn't the extreme: Up Front is.
Band of Brothers is on the other extreme.

I think your comparisons work better if you keep it at the same scale. Comparing a large operational game to a squad level game is a bit apples to oranges.

Just a suggestion.
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JP Laurio
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martimer wrote:
ASL: Almost totally random. You can tell the troops where to go most of the time, but most of what happens after that is decided by 2d6 and what is rolled and when. (Too much silliness for me.)

Wait... What? That doesn't sound like ASL at all. You have actually played the game, right? About the randomness. This same guy has won ASLOK, biggest ASL tournament there is, for who can remember how many years in a row now... I guess he must be very, very lucky then!
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norev wrote:
martimer wrote:
ASL: Almost totally random. You can tell the troops where to go most of the time, but most of what happens after that is decided by 2d6 and what is rolled and when. (Too much silliness for me.)

Wait... What? That doesn't sound like ASL at all. You have actually played the game, right? About the randomness. This same guy has won ASLOK, biggest ASL tournament there is, for who can remember how many years in a row now... I guess he must be very, very lucky then!


I must admit I thought Martins statement seemed a little out of place. I haven't played ASL yet but do own ASLSK1 and have skimmed through the rules. The general feedback about ASL is that it lacks randomness compared to other games. On the other hand I respect Martins posts so I am going to sit on the fence until someone can explain ASL's randomness.
 
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Robert Stuart
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martimer wrote:

A Victory Lost:


The randomness is in the chit draw and this makes the game very dynamic. In a single turn unexpected opportunities can open up for either player, and sometimes for both. The Russians are going to get opportunities for deep penetration and the Germans for serious counter-blows -- but neither player can know in advance just when those opportunities will come.
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ASL is random, of course. Too many events can happen that brings you - the cardboard commander - into trouble.

But also, clever tactics, good ideas at the right time will win you the scenario. And - as JP above already proved with his ASLOK example - it seems to be higher rated than the luck of the dice.

Also, the bigger the scenario, the less the impact of luck.

Also, regarding Combat Commander:
My first playings of this game left me very, very puzzled ... what a random affair. But as the game was nearly as much fun as ASL (and much shorter in playing time), I continued to play, and - to my surprise - I quickly found out that good play is rewarded here too. And I daresay, it's the same as in ASL ... tactics and good choices during play will influence the outcome more than the draw of a card or the roll of a dice.
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Brandon
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I hate to be pedantic here, but chaos != random.

Chaos is due to events that arise from complicated, albeit deterministic interactions within the game, in which this complexity causes the results to be difficult to predict. Randomness is due to "true" stochastic events, like rolling dice or drawing cards (I put in the quotation marks because it's difficult to achieve true stochasticity, thanks to imperfect dice, imperfect shuffling, etc.). The potential grey area here would be actions taken by the other player, which I would lump with "chaos" rather than with "randomness", since even though the process behind your opponent's actions may be hidden from you, it's still deterministic.

As a quick metric, I would classify as "chaotic" any game in which, even with few random events, the situation changes so much between your turns that you effectively can't plan during your opponent(s) turns. Obviously, that's a bit of a "broad strokes" definition there, but hopefully my intentions are clear-ish.

And, like any good internet pedant, I don't have anything to add with regards to the original question.

edit: I guess some chaos can arise from a random event if, in order to resolve the event, you have to go through a complicated procedure such that, even if the random event was, say, a simple d6 die roll, you still wouldn't be able to predict easily the outcome given a certain die roll result.
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Iain K
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I agree with much of what Brandon says above. One of the biggest differences between the way I think and the way many other wargamers do revolves around the question of whether 2d6 are chaotic. To my mind, they are not. They follow a well understood distribution of probability. The result is random, but it is not chaotic.

If I'm playing Squad Leader and I roll 2d6 to determine if my Soviet machine gun damages a German squad, the result is random, but it's not chaotic. I know, that there is a 3 in 36 chance of rolling an 11 or 12 on two dice, resulting in the gun jamming. If I want to avoid the machine gun jamming, to be sure it's available later in the game when targets are closer for example, I need only choose not to roll the dice. That's a hell of a lot of control, deciding whether a gun jams or not.

Now assume that my machine gun is deciding whether to react defensively. In a game like SqL or ASL, I simply choose whether to roll or not, risking the gun jam. In a game like Combat Commander, I have to have a card that allows me to defensively fire. There are a certain number of such cards in the deck. Their distribution is random. Yet that added layer of lost control, feels more chaotic to me. So I think that chaos, is randomness with little or no control. But I'm not convinced that the inability to defensively fire is "real world chaos."

Among the games you've listed I'd say CC is chaotic, annoyingly so. SqL/ASL has a relatively low level of chaos. A Victory Lost is in the middle. Breakout: Normandy has relatively low chaos owing to it's 2d6 based combat mechanism.
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whatambush wrote:
norev wrote:
martimer wrote:
ASL: Almost totally random. You can tell the troops where to go most of the time, but most of what happens after that is decided by 2d6 and what is rolled and when. (Too much silliness for me.)

Wait... What? That doesn't sound like ASL at all. You have actually played the game, right? About the randomness. This same guy has won ASLOK, biggest ASL tournament there is, for who can remember how many years in a row now... I guess he must be very, very lucky then!


I must admit I thought Martins statement seemed a little out of place. I haven't played ASL yet but do own ASLSK1 and have skimmed through the rules. The general feedback about ASL is that it lacks randomness compared to other games. On the other hand I respect Martins posts so I am going to sit on the fence until someone can explain ASL's randomness.


Count me among those who was surprised by his statement about ASL. I think the amount of randomness in ASL is typical for wargames. My hunch is that if someone feels there is too much randomness in ASL, either they don't like randomness at all, and need deterministic systems like in Napoleon's Triumph, or they are playing wrong, relying too much on luck.

There is one way to reduce chaos in ASL, though: Play scenarios with low sniper activation numbers. With a SAN of 6, snipers can create a lot of chaos, although I'm guessing this can also be mitigated by playing well.
 
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airjudden wrote:
Combat Commander isn't the extreme: Up Front is.
Band of Brothers is on the other extreme.

I think your comparisons work better if you keep it at the same scale. Comparing a large operational game to a squad level game is a bit apples to oranges.

Just a suggestion.


Band of Brothers has plenty of randomness too, though. I don't think there is a any squad level game at the other end of the scale. I don't think people would like such a game either, because in a tactical game you sometimes want wild things to happen. But Band of Brothers and Conflict of Heroes are probably the squad level systems which are the least 'wild'. A game which really would be on the other extreme (although not squad level) is Napoleon's Triumph, if it wasn't for the bluffing aspect, which is different from randomness, but also makes it feel very different from Chess.

I (think I) have once suggested plotting games along two axes. Let's say the vertical axis is randomness from completely random (bottom) to completely deterministic (top), the horisontal axis amount of hidden info from no hidden info (left) to all info hidden (right). Chess would be top right (deterministic, no hidden info). Yatzee is bottom right (no hidden info, completely random), Napoleon's Triumph is top middle (completely deterministic, some hidden info). People who like games to be brain-burning and to be purely a battle of wits, wants to be at the top, people who like gambling and cheering for their dice will like to be at the bottom. I suspect many people don't want to admit that they prefer to be closer to the bottom, but for many (including me) there is pleasure to be had in throwing dice and hoping for a good result. Hm, instead of derailing the thread, maybe I should start a new thread on this. It could be interesting to hear what people's preferences are.
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Judd Vance
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oivind22 wrote:
airjudden wrote:
Combat Commander isn't the extreme: Up Front is.
Band of Brothers is on the other extreme.

I think your comparisons work better if you keep it at the same scale. Comparing a large operational game to a squad level game is a bit apples to oranges.

Just a suggestion.


Band of Brothers has plenty of randomness too, though. I don't think there is a any squad level game at the other end of the scale. I don't think people would like such a game either, because in a tactical game you sometimes want wild things to happen. But Band of Brothers and Conflict of Heroes are probably the squad level systems which are the least 'wild'. A game which really would be on the other extreme (although not squad level) is Napoleon's Triumph, if it wasn't for the bluffing aspect, which is different from randomness, but also makes it feel very different from Chess.

I (think I) have once suggested plotting games along two axes. Let's say the vertical axis is randomness from completely random (bottom) to completely deterministic (top), the horisontal axis amount of hidden info from no hidden info (left) to all info hidden (right). Chess would be top right (deterministic, no hidden info). Yatzee is bottom right (no hidden info, completely random), Napoleon's Triumph is top middle (completely deterministic, some hidden info). People who like games to be brain-burning and to be purely a battle of wits, wants to be at the top, people who like gambling and cheering for their dice will like to be at the bottom. I suspect many people don't want to admit that they prefer to be closer to the bottom, but for many (including me) there is pleasure to be had in throwing dice and hoping for a good result. Hm, instead of derailing the thread, maybe I should start a new thread on this. It could be interesting to hear what people's preferences are.


The only random thing in Band of Brothers is the die roll.

At least in ASL your die roll may activate a sniper, adding an added level of chaos to the game.
 
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Rob Bailey
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Oivind - As the original poster, I want you to feel free to run with this in any direction you'd like. Personally, I would love to see the discussion to which you are referring.

I have really enjoyed this thread. I didn't know how to kick off the conversation about randomness, chaos, etc... but you guys have taken it and run with it.
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airjudden wrote:
The only random thing in Band of Brothers is the die roll.

At least in ASL your die roll may activate a sniper, adding an added level of chaos to the game.


Yes, I think ASL is more random than BoB. But there are a few die rolls in BoB. Suppressed units roll to act, even to move. So I'm not sure the difference in randomness between ASL and BoB is completely clear-cut.
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Moonnerd wrote:
Oivind - As the original poster, I want you to feel free to run with this in any direction you'd like. Personally, I would love to see the discussion to which you are referring.

I have really enjoyed this thread. I didn't know how to kick off the conversation about randomness, chaos, etc... but you guys have taken it and run with it.


I started a new thread on these two axes, and made a figure to illustrate. It seemed out-of-place in a thread which is really about these specific games. But it would be nice to plot them along those two axes. The hard (and potentially controversial) part is how to rate the randomness. If someone places a game too far to the bottom, fans of that game make take issue.

On the left-right (hidden info) scale, it is easier. Combat Commander is obviously furthest to the right. ASL and BoB should be to the left, but not completely to the left, and about equally far to the left (they both have concealment). Maybe ASL a little further to the right of BoB since it has hidden initial placement too. Both have dummy units. Conflict of Heroes is almost to the left, although it can have hidden units. Lock'n Load is completely to the left (no hidden info - which is not surprising given that Mark Walker hates things like dummy units).

Edit: I guess Lock'n Load was not one of those you mentioned. I'm just used to mentioning it alongside the other squad level games.
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jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
I hate to be pedantic here, but chaos != random.

Chaos is due to events that arise from complicated, albeit deterministic interactions within the game, in which this complexity causes the results to be difficult to predict. Randomness is due to "true" stochastic events, like rolling dice or drawing cards (I put in the quotation marks because it's difficult to achieve true stochasticity, thanks to imperfect dice, imperfect shuffling, etc.). The potential grey area here would be actions taken by the other player, which I would lump with "chaos" rather than with "randomness", since even though the process behind your opponent's actions may be hidden from you, it's still deterministic.

As a quick metric, I would classify as "chaotic" any game in which, even with few random events, the situation changes so much between your turns that you effectively can't plan during your opponent(s) turns. Obviously, that's a bit of a "broad strokes" definition there, but hopefully my intentions are clear-ish.

And, like any good internet pedant, I don't have anything to add with regards to the original question.

edit: I guess some chaos can arise from a random event if, in order to resolve the event, you have to go through a complicated procedure such that, even if the random event was, say, a simple d6 die roll, you still wouldn't be able to predict easily the outcome given a certain die roll result.


Your definition of chaos basically seems to be the mathematical definition of chaos. I'm not sure that's the same thing as the kind of chaos you get in war. I think the chaos of war is actually a form of randomness. Shit just happens. And in practice mathematical chaos is also hard to seperate from randomness. If a butterfly flapping it's wings can be the difference between a storm and nice weather in the long run, this means the weather will in practice be random.

I think that what makes a game feel more chaotic is if results in the games are widely spread, so that anything can happen at any time. But this also means that the game is random.
 
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jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
As a quick metric, I would classify as "chaotic" any game in which, even with few random events, the situation changes so much between your turns that you effectively can't plan during your opponent(s) turns. Obviously, that's a bit of a "broad strokes" definition there, but hopefully my intentions are clear-ish.


I agree with this way to measure chaos. So again, anything can happen. That feels chaotic. But I think this usually comes about by randomness in the game, not by the complexity. Maybe with beginners, the game can be chaotic if the game is very complex, and it's hard to see the consequences of what you do, but with experienced players, I don't think this will happen. Chaos comes about by having so much randomness, you never know what the situation will be next turn.
 
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Brandon
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oivind22 wrote:
jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
As a quick metric, I would classify as "chaotic" any game in which, even with few random events, the situation changes so much between your turns that you effectively can't plan during your opponent(s) turns. Obviously, that's a bit of a "broad strokes" definition there, but hopefully my intentions are clear-ish.


I agree with this way to measure chaos. So again, anything can happen. That feels chaotic. But I think this usually comes about by randomness in the game, not by the complexity. Maybe with beginners, the game can be chaotic if the game is very complex, and it's hard to see the consequences of what you do, but with experienced players, I don't think this will happen. Chaos comes about by having so much randomness, you never know what the situation will be next turn.


I do take the mathematical definitions because games are math (well there's a lot more to them but the underlying systems are mathematical)

I was thinking about it more after my original post and in games, the chaos-causing complixity doesn't really come from the interactions of the rules per se but from the players themselves. In mathematical systems, you need non-linear dynamics to give rise to chaos; most board game mechanics are fairly linear in a sense. However, you have these gloriously non-linear things involved: humans.

When I think about the games I've played that are the most chaotic (in the sense I've given), they tend to be multiplayer games, with more chaos with more players. In fact there are some completely deterministic games where you can really feel that with two-players it's almost chess-like but once you start adding more, it becomes so chaotic that you lose all ability to plan. With one opponent, you can make reasonable assumptions about what they'll do, but with more, it becomes difficult to predict how several non-linear agents will behave and how they'll interact.

So I would classify most wargames as having varying degrees of randomness, with the chaos brought in by your opponent(s). However, maybe the player-caused chaos in wargames is more extreme than other games because the depth of the rules allows for more complicated behavior. Thoughts? And in that case, card-based games would be especially chaotic since, while the selection of cards a player might have is random, the ever-changing set of possible actions with a potentially huge state space means that those humans have even more complicated actions to choose from. That would at least be reflected by some of the opinions in this thread so far.

An aside: one kind of non-player chaos I can think of are things like "panic" results that can spread between units, or any other kinds of chained/"contagious" results. However, in my limited experience, there are sometimes limitations on just how much they can spread.



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I don't agree that Combat Commander is an extreme. All sorts of stuff can happen, sure, but most of the time it doesn't. I'll rate ASL and CC about the same, and feel both have the "right" amount of chaos for games on this scale.

In both ASL and CC I can form a general plan of what I want to do, and then expect to have to "work around" some unforeseen events. I can think of several chit-pull games, for instance, that are much more unpredictable and chaotic than either of these two.

I'd say BoB is the least chaotic tactical game I have played.
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FWIW I think in these kinds of discussions, most people are usually using terms like "random", "chaos", "luck", etc very informally/intuitively, and any attempt to try to impose mathematical rigor on their usage is doomed.

(As are attempts to classify these kind of typical tactical wargames according to their "randomness"/"chaos". E.g. compared to abstract strategy games, these games are all indistinguishably at the far end of the "random chaos" scale, and comparing the effects of random events from card draws in Combat Commander, proficient roll attempts in Band of Brothers, snipers etc in ASL, and just how random the combat result rolls are in all of them is like debating about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I'd say that they all have plenty of randomness/chaos which just manifests in various different ways. I exaggerate a little, but at the same time I'm somewhat sincere in this belief.)
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russ wrote:
E.g. compared to abstract strategy games, these games are all indistinguishably at the far end of the "random chaos" scale, and comparing... just how random the combat result rolls are in all of them is like debating about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I'd say that they all have plenty of randomness/chaos which just manifests in various different ways.

I'd have to agree with that, based on how this discussion has gone. I was stunned to see someone describing ASL as "not that random" because it uses a 2d6 distribution curve, with his point being (as far as I could tell) that such a curve is relatively predictable.

But on further thought, I suppose that person might have had a point, because what makes ASL truly chaotic is the extreme effects that can happen on DRs of 2 and 12... or the effects of getting a series of low-probability events in a row. Those are the times when the game suddenly swings away from what the players thought they were planning.

Trying to rigorously compare all these different forms of randomness is as doomed as russ suggested.
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There are some really good comments here. I'll throw my usual comments in, because I think the wargamers will actually get where I am coming from. I usually get blank stares elsewhere.

The thing to remember about dice, CRTs and random events is: that you are not (necessarily) at their mercy. Sure, if you are rolling on the table you invite chaos or fate. But think about it for a minute. You are the one deciding to pick up those dice and roll them. What do I mean? Well, you are taking the shot. You are moving those guys where they can be seen, inviting opportunity fire. You are attempting the Rally action, or equipment field repair. That decision is totally in your control. Sure, you can't control everything and sometimes you will have to pick up the dice against your wishes, especially if your opponent is good. But as Ron so very eloquently put it in his fantastic post: most times, it is your tactical or strategic decisions that are leading to that die roll/card draw in the first place.

Even in CC. If you decide to flip that card, then be prepared for the consequences. You need to know weird things can happen. That's not chaos, it is calculated risk. If you have covered your bases, then the risk is small to you and large to your opponent. That's how you win. in ASL, or CC. Sure, sometimes you will have no choice but to flip that card, especially if your opponent is playing well. But even then, you can have your bases covered at all times to minimize your risk and mitigate fate. That's a factor in all wargames. However, a large chunk of people will see dice in the box and simply automatically think: "Oh, this game is a luck fest." Without really knowing anything about it, or bothering to learn. (Not generally wargamers, though).

I didn't fully realize this until years ago when I read Ken Dunn's piece in Ops 46: "If I'm Rolling I'm Losing." Came out when ASL-SK1 came out, over 10 years ago. He talks about controlling play in the article. It was real eye opener for me and changed the way I approach games. Always be careful what you do, because there are consequences. Or, to put it another way (since I am a Biochemist): for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Very true in games, as well as physics.

Anyway, thanks for the great discussion. I love talking about randomness in games. It is a somewhat misunderstood concept.
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Classic from Geoff Engelstein. It's really a pet peeve of mine when gamers generalize that randomness is inversely proportional to potential for skilled play.
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