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Subject: Wargames - Dice or No Dice? rss

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Family Gill
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Hello wargamers!

I am designing a wargame system with my family, and wanted to ask, Dice or no Dice?

Coming from MtG, I am used to a game where plays are made in decisions, deceit, and tactical plays with little randomness (aside from the cards in your hand). What are your thoughts on the value of randomness in dice rolls, managing this randomness, and where the best games "make their plays," meaning where players make the decisions that decide their victories and losses.

Looking forward to your thoughts!
 
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B C Z
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Are you after a game like Diplomacy which has zero randomness other than your fellow players.

Or are you after a game like Button Men which is 100% dice (and some rules about how they interact).

Randomness has its place.

Things to not do:

Roll a die! Do whatever this card says:
1: Super awesome effect
2-5: Normal effect
6: Totally destructive effect that knocks you out of the game

Roll a die! Then roll another die that number of times! Then count the number of times you rolled a '6' total. Get that number of dice! Roll them all! Add them up. That's the value for the first squad. Repeat this for the other 9 squads and then...

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Robert Wesley
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Well, the very same Company for M:tG also introduced their 'insipid system' unto "A&A"-miniatures and you may then want to check into this some initially.
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Alex Norris
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To far to either extreme is bad. I think games like Combat Commander and Twilight struggle do it right
 
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Dice or some other source of significant randomness is a must for the genre in my opinion.
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Geoffrey Burrell
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If you don't use dice use numbered cards like they do with A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition).
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Ryan Keane
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There's a lot of discussion out there discussing input vs output randomness, with using dice for combat resolution being a typical example of output randomness. I'm not a heavy wargamer, but generally the heavier the game is the less output randomness I want.

C&C system - great use of dice. Pictoral dice rather than numerical. The games are all about maximizing the number of dice you roll and modifiers change the number you roll, rather than modifying the result. This system also has input randomness in what command cards you and your opponent drew.

Otherwise, I generally prefer just input randomness - what cards you draw, uncertainty about what cards your opponents has, and uncertainty about how many they're going to play to invest in a single battle. This is more like MtG.

I would consider AGoT to have no randomness at all in the combat - you have fixed hands, you know exactly what cards your opponent has at any given time, so the only uncertainty is in which card they'll play (and often you're guaranteed to win no matter what they play). The cards could be numbered, or have opposing effects like Rock-Paper-Scissor, or some combination/additional effects like AGoT.
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Leo Zappa
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If a given wargame is supposed to actually represent/model/simulate an actual (or hypothetical) battle, then dice or other randomizers are a must. No real world battle/campaign/war was ever decided without fate playing a role in the outcome. No commander can ever know with certainty what the outcome of the next battle will be.

Now, if on the other hand, you are just designing a game with a pasted on combat theme, then by all means use whatever combat mechanic appears to satisfy your design intent. There are certainly some well liked games out there that use a deterministic approach to combat resolution, so there's nothing wrong with that, for a certain audience.

Personally, if I'm playing a wargame, I want that random aspect built into the game.
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Ryan Keane
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desertfox2004 wrote:
If a given wargame is supposed to actually represent/model/simulate an actual (or hypothetical) battle, then dice or other randomizers are a must. No real world battle/campaign/war was ever decided without fate playing a role in the outcome. No commander can ever know with certainty what the outcome of the next battle will be.

Now, if on the other hand, you are just designing a game with a pasted on combat theme, then by all means use whatever combat mechanic appears to satisfy your design intent. There are certainly some well liked games out there that use a deterministic approach to combat resolution, so there's nothing wrong with that, for a certain audience.



Uncertainty and randomness are different. A commander can be uncertain because he does not have complete knowledge of the situation (fog of war, future weather, etc.). If he did, and could respond accordingly, then it's possible that the outcome could be certain, excepting some act of god.

I agree if you are trying to simulate combat specifically, you probably need some output randomness to feel realistic. But you can still simulate a war at a larger scale without it.

Think of something else that we model, like climate. You put in all the data you have, formulas about how they interact, etc. and predict what will happen. There is no randomness included in the model, but you do have a statistical measure of confidence of how close you expect the model should match reality. For a war, you can similarly create a game model out of many formulas/mechanisms, with a lot of the input data being dependent on player choices, but if the players provided all the same input data (decisions) that the real commanders did, than you might expect the model to match reality, with some measure of confidence of how close it will match, without having any randomness in your game model.
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Bonaparte at Marengo is a good example of hidden info with dice or cards contributing randomness.
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Ken
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familygill wrote:
Hello wargamers!

I am designing a wargame system with my family, and wanted to ask, Dice or no Dice?


Well, how much of a random element needs to be built into the game and for what purpose? If you're trying to simulate some randomness in the quality or performance of units or personnel in combat, then dice can be a great way to simulate those to determine an outcome. The players can bring sufficient strength to a fight to know the range and likelihood of possible results and manage risk accordingly. There are copious examples of ways to do this with Combat Results Tables, rolls to determine final combat strength, rolls to hit, etc.

But there are definitely other ways to inject some degree of uncertainty/randomness. A deck of cards can supply this as it does for battles in Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage or We the People by simulating different choices in combat. Games like Empires in Arms use a choice of chits to set the tables that are used in combat with modifiers based on the quality of the leaders involved in the fight. Others have already mentioned A Game of Thrones (first edition) with decks per player that both modify combat strength and provide special abilities.

Personally, I think that a degree of actual randomness is pretty much a requirement for wargames. "No plan survives contact with the enemy" is tough to model if there's no randomness built-in. There are a few games that attempt to minimize this (Lincoln's War, for example) with varying degrees of success. But these systems can suffer from a fairly significant problem - once the players have sufficient information, they know the outcome with just about perfect certainty. That's a problem - very few wars involved that type of clarity before an engagement took place, even if it was the second or third time certain forces clashed.

My one thought for you - if you look at any form of randomizer, make sure it's used sufficiently that you reduce or eliminate the "one killer roll" type of result. Few things are more frustrated in a game than having the whole game boil down to a single die roll or random event - you may as well skip the rest of the game and just resolve that. Build in sufficient events that the game is based on many outcomes so that it's a combination of strategy and a bit of luck on occasion. For all of the complaints about dice or similar mechanisms, when there are sufficient rolls of the dice, pulls from a deck, etc. you actually reduce the randomness in a game rather than increasing it. So be sure to apply the technique wisely and sufficiently that it ends up being the players and not the randomizer that determine the outcome in the end. Losing because you roll 8 "1s" is something most players will shake off as a run of very bad luck. Losing because you only had a single roll of consequence is a reflection of bad design.
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Family wargames should not include 6-sided dice. Those sharp corners really hurt.

 
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Ken
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GeoffreyB wrote:
If you don't use dice use numbered cards like they do with A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition).


This is quite different than dice, though - it's uncertain what the other player may choose, but the choices are quite finite and trackable. That can work, but it's a very different design decision than a random element.
 
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Ryan Keane wrote:
There's a lot of discussion out there discussing input vs output randomness, with using dice for combat resolution being a typical example of output randomness. I'm not a heavy wargamer, but generally the heavier the game is the less output randomness I want.

C&C system - great use of dice. Pictoral dice rather than numerical. The games are all about maximizing the number of dice you roll and modifiers change the number you roll, rather than modifying the result. This system also has input randomness in what command cards you and your opponent drew.

Otherwise, I generally prefer just input randomness - what cards you draw, uncertainty about what cards your opponents has, and uncertainty about how many they're going to play to invest in a single battle. This is more like MtG.

I would consider AGoT to have no randomness at all in the combat - you have fixed hands, you know exactly what cards your opponent has at any given time, so the only uncertainty is in which card they'll play (and often you're guaranteed to win no matter what they play). The cards could be numbered, or have opposing effects like Rock-Paper-Sissies, or some combination/additional effects like AGoT.


Input randomness removes all risk from your decision-making process, which is antithetical to the genre. This is certainly the case historically. Part of wargaming is calculated risk and its management. Without luck after the decision process you're just min/maxing your resources. It's gaming, but it's cold and predictable.

S.
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Dice always dice.

Mitigation of risk is part of what makes war games work.

Think of how boring MTG would be if you chose your opening hand, you have to balance the cards in a deck to mitigate the randomness in the shuffle. Same thing applies to wargames.

Personally i find dice the simplest way to achieve this randomness, but you could use other methods as long as they are not cumbersome and dont take away from the strategic and tactical flow of the game.

-M
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Necessary Evil
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For a good Diceless (but plenty random) combat system look at the one used in Dune... hard to make work in games that don't involve some level of treachery/betrayal but a great system.

-M
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Justen Brown
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Napoleon's Triumph is a *ahem* triumph in game design as it's 100% abstract. The randomization comes from not knowing what your opponent has. Everything else is determined by location and positioning of your units.

I'd certainly love more games like NT but it seems to be a rarity and people enjoy having some kind of variability outside of the player's skill. Frankly I find dice frustrating and prefer cards. If dice are involved I like results more varied than a binary hit or miss.
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Ryan Keane
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Sagrilarus wrote:
Ryan Keane wrote:
There's a lot of discussion out there discussing input vs output randomness, with using dice for combat resolution being a typical example of output randomness. I'm not a heavy wargamer, but generally the heavier the game is the less output randomness I want.

C&C system - great use of dice. Pictoral dice rather than numerical. The games are all about maximizing the number of dice you roll and modifiers change the number you roll, rather than modifying the result. This system also has input randomness in what command cards you and your opponent drew.

Otherwise, I generally prefer just input randomness - what cards you draw, uncertainty about what cards your opponents has, and uncertainty about how many they're going to play to invest in a single battle. This is more like MtG.

I would consider AGoT to have no randomness at all in the combat - you have fixed hands, you know exactly what cards your opponent has at any given time, so the only uncertainty is in which card they'll play (and often you're guaranteed to win no matter what they play). The cards could be numbered, or have opposing effects like Rock-Paper-Sissies, or some combination/additional effects like AGoT.


Input randomness removes all risk from your decision-making process, which is antithetical to the genre. This is certainly the case historically. Part of wargaming is calculated risk and its management. Without luck after the decision process you're just min/maxing your resources. It's gaming, but it's cold and predictable.

S.


Maybe it's semantics and we're saying the same thing, but only input randomness with no output randomness does not mean there's no calculated risk management. If you don't know what's in the other player's hand, you are not certain of the outcome of your decision, but you are not using output randomness to determine the outcome of your decision.

In Sekigara or Maria/Friedrich, there's the input randomness of what cards you draw and your opponent draws, and possibly some uncertainty about the size of your opponent's units; you make a decision based on the certainty of what's in your hand right now and your estimation of what's in your opponent's hand; and you and your opponent can continue to play more cards to continue the battle given further uncertainty about what's in each others' hands. No output randomness, but I wouldn't call those min/maxing or cold and predictable.

Small World and Imperial are probably the closest things I can think of completely deterministic combat. Neither are trying to be simulation wargames, but one is an amazing game even though you are certain of the outcomes of combat and one is pretty bad and plays itself. Probably the biggest issue I see is that if you want to design a great deterministic or near-deterministic wargame, it can be done. Whether it is or is not trying to simulate a real conflict, just don't call it a wargame - call is an abstract strategy or Euro strategy or whatever. Wargaming is a very established genre and it's just better to avoid false expectations or unfair criticisms that it doesn't match something that you weren't trying to match in the first place.
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Family Gill
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I appreciate all of this terrific feedback everyone!

To give some more insight, the idea is this:

The game is played at two scales, regional and tactical. In regional scale players move armies around the board at the scale of counties, States, etc. Armies are represented by a token which correlates to a cluster of cards, I.e. Infantry, cavalry unit, maybe warships, etc.

When two armies meet, say on a city which produces resources, a smaller may use rolled out that is maybe 10x10 hex. The armies are then deployed into the map, defending player first. We do this by putting the army cards in card stands and having them AWAY from the opponent to simulate fog of war a bit.

When the units come within close enough range the unit is revealed - this way you can make some preliminary plays without your opponent knowing your exact plans. Then the units fight.

We're also considering intelligence cards which can be played during the combat as interrupts, such as sabotaging enemy vehicles, minefields, sniper nests, etc.

All a work in progress, but that is the basic idea here. There would definitely be input randomness because there will be draw piles (cities produce tech and new units from a draw pile) so I'm not sure how valuable dice will be, or how to add them, as players already control tactical position, some hidden cards, concealed units, etc.
 
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I'm with Ryan. Since you've played Magic, you know you can have uncertainty without dice.
 
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Mark Helton
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familygill wrote:


Dice or no Dice?



Yes!

 
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I'm a fan of the newer Warhammer / Star Wars RPG dice systems. Something in the vein of generating resources you can spend, some of which can be spent against you.

Crossbreeding that with a wargame could prove fruitful.
 
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Ken
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familygill wrote:
When two armies meet, say on a city which produces resources, a smaller may use rolled out that is maybe 10x10 hex. The armies are then deployed into the map, defending player first. We do this by putting the army cards in card stands and having them AWAY from the opponent to simulate fog of war a bit.


You might look at blocks a la many GMT. Cards in stands are pretty much certain to get marks and will wear.

Most of what you state doesn't sound like there's dice required at all. Fog of war is one type of uncertainty and it doesn't require any dice or a randomizer. But when the units actually engage, randomness may provide you with some benefits in terms of mixing up the results of combat.

That's really the key question - where in your game will uncertainty come in to play? How will you accomplish that to simulate what you want it to represent? Where in your game is randomness appropriate? Why? What does it represent?

A set of example answers:

1. The exact composition of armies at a strategic level will not be revealed except under certain circumstances. This is uncertainty that doesn't require randomness implemented by hiding the specific composition of armies on the strategic map.

2. Armies will have somewhat variable movement to reflect differences in the degree of supply that they can receive. This will be based on a die roll with known minimums and maximums and will be modified by supply state (full, limited, out of supply).

3. Once armies clash, units will attempt to score hits on opponents. This will be based on a base quality number used to score a hit through rolling dice, modified by terrain, other attacking units, position, etc.
 
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Dice in any game are all about adding a randomizer and chance for luck and probability to sway the results of an action. So it really depends on how much you want the results of any action to rely on tactics versus how much your want luck to be involved.

Most table top wargames, Warhammer, Warmachine, etc use dice to help compensate to a certain extent for differences in player skill level and the make of their army list, as well as keep the game from being a simple paper, rock, scissors, scenario. In those cases, I tend to like the dice. However, for board games, I tend to perfer a little more control over things.

As others have said though you can use other mechanics to put a certain amount of luck into play without dice rolls. Scythe, for instance, uses a mechanic where enemy players can see how much combat potential you have, but not what you are going to use, and then both sides can also add cars to their attack values. So strategy and luck are involved without a single die hitting the table.

Another big question is what exactly would the dice be used for? Are they seeing if you hit and/or wound an opponent, are they determining reinforcements? And in those cases would the probability from a die or dice be better for that purpose then from drawing from deck of cards?
 
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Andrew Newell
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This is a question I've been grappling with as well! As an old fan of Diplomacy I favor Input Variance over Output Variance, and I've seen a ton of great examples of it lately. Risk Europe, Memoir '44, and the Academy Games series accomplish this with "Order Cards", so the strategic level contains some dramatic uncertainties. Shogun's tower is another fascinating mechanic that produces a similar result to throwing dice but in a much faster way.

What are some other ways that the actual combat step is handled, though? I'm mostly familiar with Axis & Allies style targeted dice-rolls and Dune-style outbidding your opponent.
 
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