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Subject: Do miniatures games offer less simulation and room for skilled play than board games? rss

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Mike Hoyt

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m3tan wrote:
calandale wrote:
m3tan wrote:
Napoleon's Triumph is about as close as you can get while still having some mechanism to regulate movement, range etc...


Minis have done fine without any area distinguishment....

Yes and no. I have yet to find one tactical miniatures game that rivals the simulation value of a well designed board game. At the risk of opening Pandora's box, games like Advanced Squad Leader or Combat Commander: Europe offer several orders of magnitude more simulation value or even reward for skilled play than Flames of War: The World War II Miniatures Game or Warhammer 40,000. The best miniatures game I've seen is probably CrossFire: Rules & Organizations for Company Level WW2 Gaming and even that is a far cry from any well regarded tactical boardgame. If you take away the pretty minis and dioramas, there is very little substance...


Has there been any war games that use realistic maps?

Above quotes come from a different thread on realistic wargame maps, “realistic” in the sense of not having hexes or areas or other delineations for movement. If you’re interested in that discussion, head on over there, I want to pull Michael Tan’s comment quoted above to start a new thread. Or perhaps open Pandora’s box as he fears.

Do miniatures games offer less simulation and room for skilled play than board games? Well, let’s start by parsing those two objectives, which are not necessarily linked, at least not in my mind. (In all fairness to Michael, he may well have been writing a little more loosely and doesn’t deserve to be parsed, please know that if I’m taking this a bit too literally it’s only for the sake of this post, I’m not trying to hold anybody accountable to anything)

The simulation value of any game is dependent on which aspects of reality the consumer thinks needs to be simulated. Of course, it is not the consumer who gets to decide, for any given game it is the Designer who chooses what to include in the game and what to ignore. In Force on Force, modern squad level combat where each figure represents a single soldier, the Designers made the decision to treat all assault rifles as functionally the same. Obviously in the real world there are differences and if you value differentiating on caliber or rate of fire or reliability then you may dismiss the “simulation “value of the FOF. But the Designers argue those differences are so minuscule compared to the quality of the troops wielding the rifles that the emphasis should be on distinguishing the differences in training and motivation, etc. In other words, they put their emphasis on the man, not the rifle.

In the boardgame universe it’s easy to also find differences of emphasis, ASL explicitly models Leaders, Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles argues that is a poor model. ASL is much more granular in terms of hardware, BOB chooses to be more granular on the morale state of the troops. Which game seems a better simulation to you is going to depend largely on which one best balances emphasis on the factors you think most important. I don’t know that there can be a universal right answer to that, but it does seem to me that there is nothing inherently superior in boardgames vs miniatures, it’s going to come down to what you think is important. For me, Force on Force is correct to eschew the minutiae of rifle specifications in favor of concentrating on troop quality.

What then about rewarding skilled play? Well, I think it comes down to what you consider skilled play? There is a definitely a segment of our hobby who glory in knowing a given game inside and out and maximizing the rules/system for all it’s worth. The more complicated a game is, the more scope they have to show off their superior knowledge. That’s too gamey for me. I prefer to think of skilled play as being the use of appropriate real world tactics, and I just hope the game system rewards that. I’d argue that Force on Force, with relatively simple mechanics, rewards good tactical play in the sense of using overwatch, suppressive fire etc., but offers little opportunity to surprise your opponent with hidden sewer movement rules found only in a footnote to Appendix J. I will concede that boardgames in general tend to be more complicated and thus do offer more room for skilled in play in the sense of being able to exploit the system more thoroughly.

For many miniatures players the pretty figures and dioramas may in fact be the main attraction, but it’s not necessarily true that they disguise a lack of substance, it depends a lot on what factors you want represented, to what detail and what you thinks constitutes “simulation” and “skilled play”.

Pandora’s Box indeed! Thanks for setting me off Michael, however inadvertently.

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Steven Larsen
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Mike Hoyt,

Exactly right. I do both and could take both sides of the argument if I wanted to. But Why? Do what you enjoy. People trying to down one or the other are showing their ignorance.

I will say that I prefer minis for certain scales and periods and board game others. That's all though.
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Roger Hobden
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I think so, but I'm no expert, so I could be wrong.
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Paul C
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At the tactical scale, the only difference between how a minis game and a board wargame simulates things is down to the design and scope decisions that resulted in the rules. In theory it would be fairly straightforward to play a board wargame ruleset with minis, and vice versa (various hybrids have been demonstrated on BGG).
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Alfy Burger
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Mallet wrote:
I think so, but I'm no expert, so I could be wrong.


I agree with 2/3 of your sentence.
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Roger Hobden
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AlfyB wrote:
Mallet wrote:
I think so, but I'm no expert, so I could be wrong.


I agree with 2/3 of your sentence.


OK then, fair enough.

 
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Mike Hoyt

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Mallet wrote:
AlfyB wrote:
Mallet wrote:
I think so, but I'm no expert, so I could be wrong.


I agree with 2/3 of your sentence.


OK then, fair enough.



Imagine if he only agreed with 1/3 of your sentence!
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Edward Duenskie
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Sorry, you did open the Pandora's box when inserting the comments on ASL is at the top of simulation. Having played SL and then ASL, IMO, ASL reached the a point where it became a rules lawyers game and was never realistic although it had always been great fun. Most scenarios responded well to playing a great leader with as many units as possible and creating a death star for killing.

I went on to find simpler tactical level games that were still great fun, not rules heavy and were actually better simulations.
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EddieD5 wrote:
Sorry, you did open the Pandora's box when inserting the comments on ASL is at the top of simulation. Having played SL and then ASL, IMO, ASL reached the a point where it became a rules lawyers game and was never realistic although it had always been great fun. Most scenarios responded well to playing a great leader with as many units as possible and creating a death star for killing.

I went on to find simpler tactical level games that were still great fun, not rules heavy and were actually better simulations.


I don't think that ASL--or Combat Commander, for that matter--was offered as the pinnacle of simulation value. In fact, I read it as echoing the common sentiment that neither of the two games mentioned are particularly good simulations. But even these poor simulations offer more simulation value than miniature gaming. So pointing out the flaws in ASL just highlights the original post's point.
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Edward Duenskie
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By the way, good question. Part of my point was that games with less rules and counter information may be better simulations than complex games. I have to think harder if miniatures can fill the simulation bill. Probably yes to a certain extent on miniatures, although because the limited the unit information, that may limit the variables and opportunity to simulate.
 
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blockhead wrote:
For many miniatures players the pretty figures and dioramas may in fact be the main attraction, but it’s not necessarily true that they disguise a lack of substance, it depends a lot on what factors you want represented, to what detail and what you thinks constitutes “simulation” and “skilled play”.
I agree with you there. Anyone claiming tabletop wargames provide "very little substance" is just trying to start shit.

The premise of boardgame wargames is a very strict, highly regimented, highly controlled environment where every battlefield exists in perfect hexes, every unit is perfectly delineated on every counter, and every rule is provided in no-questions-asked rule/case format. It rewards people who are only creative once 80% of the story has been told to them. Tabletop wargaming uses a different set of front-to-back top-to-bottom skills, where sometimes you won't even be able to determine line-of-sight until you commit to getting your troops there. Hell, I can remember the looks on boardgamers faces the minute I get out the tape-measure, like "Oh god, what do I do with that?!?!" It can be a whole different ballgame.

Not to say one is better than the other, but m3tan gave a very one-sided version of the conversation.
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All models are wrong... but some are fun.

I'm a miniature wargamer by preference because I like the visual appeal of it. One could also argue that given the limited constraints on movements, the subjective based calls on visibility or cover or other fuzzy edges that both players have to agree on they could do a better job at representing real problems as they appear in the real world (in that there isn't a nice clean solution). They often are just problems that need to be played around to solved outside of what the game wants to achieve.

Taking out the constraints on movement lets both players have more predictable actions and reactions by removing the subjective judgement over whether the move was 1" to far or that only 49% of the unit was covered.

Within both systems though the core rules boil down to how to you move or control area and how to your units interact. You could make that as detailed as Force on Force or as simple as opposed modified dice rolls in Song of Blades and Heroes. Given both solve the same problems in similar ways there isn't enough of a difference to say one is better than the other in solving 'the problem'.
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blockhead wrote:
Pandora’s Box indeed! Thanks for setting me off Michael, however inadvertently.

If you want to my detailed opinion on the matter, I actually wrote an entire blog about small unit tactical wargames when I was the lead designer on War Stories: Red Storm. Unfortunately I had to drop out of the project for personal reasons (bitter divorce and custody battle) and most of my design never saw the light of day. For the record, my finished design was scrapped in favor of a brand new game for reasons I'm not privy to. Although I cited ASL as a boardgame simulation, those comments were somewhat off the cuff - it is a game that many others, not me personally, consider a simulation. ASL is actually one of my poster children for bad 80's concept of "what is a simulation". I pretty much categorically dismiss all perfect information games as simulations. Especially if suppressing a unit makes it easier to kill (ironic since that is the case for the published game that bears my name on it - sigh...). In any event, 1000 pages of gobbledygook about penetration values and turret traverse speeds are meaningless if you can't get the basics right. That is why Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles is an infinitely better simulation (and game) than Advanced Squad Leader. And obviously, I concur on your comments about Force on Force.

There is fundamentally no reason why a boardgame should be more "realistic" than a miniatures game, but after attempting to merge the two genres with War Stories (below is a War Stories demo at Origins 2012), I gained alot of insight.


Most BGG wargamers are wired completely differently than collectible miniatures wargamers. Now I realize, there are some folks who play both, but the two camps have shockingly different concepts of what is realistic. Most miniatures gamers can't be bothered with things like diminishing firepower as range increases or variable terrain movement costs. Many games have ultra simple rules like "it's in range or its not" or "move until you hit trees then stop". They just don't see any value in hexes and think they are "unrealistic" because they don't allow infinite facings or micro movements. Many games don't even have opportunity fire which frankly I can't even fathom. And forget about fog of war or limited command capabilites (the notable exception being CrossFire: Rules & Organizations for Company Level WW2 Gaming). When I tried to explain those concepts to Flames of War: The World War II Miniatures Game players, their eyes just glazed over.

Frankly, I see the same phenomenon with WW2 grand strategy games. Axis & Allies has a cult following of players than seem to live in a completely different universe than guys who grew up on A3R. I've lost count of how many homebrew "monster" A&A games I've seen where "realism" just means more areas, more dice, and many more types of plastic pieces. Meanwhile, they rarely think to add fog-of-war, supply, etc... There is something about the lure of miniatures which makes it OK to just dumb down everything else...
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blockhead wrote:

For many miniatures players the pretty figures and dioramas may in fact be the main attraction, but it’s not necessarily true that they disguise a lack of substance, it depends a lot on what factors you want represented, to what detail and what you thinks constitutes “simulation” and “skilled play”.




This is indeed often the case. But, the point is that there are some
very good minis systems out there. It is also the case that some
former board wargamers switched TO minis, when the hobby started
highlighting more complex tactical games.

There is an inherent representational cost to playing with minis.
And they are mechanically more difficult to move around (measuring
et al). Choosing these trade-offs may well result in an overall bias
away from the super-detailed games (though, La Bat manages to incorporate
some of the same issues on a board, for less payoff, yet still remains
about as complex as most would desire).
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Paul C
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Here's a good reference point for anyone unfamiliar with the more "detailed/complex/sophisticated" side of minis rules-

Panzer War

It's available for FREE at the author's website, along with a trove of research resources (including detailed AFV armour data and gun penetration and accuracy data) and design notes-

http://www.panzer-war.com/
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The best game of WWII platoon combat I have come across is Chain of Command. Be that minis or board. It has fog of war, command and control, realistic feeling ranges and fire power effects, rewards real world tactics appropriately and produces narratives that often could come from reading an account of a fire fight.

I agree though that a large number of mini games are very poor in the simulation and skilled play front - the poster child being WH40K. How can you simulate warfare in the 40th century I hear you cry? Well it sure as hell won't look like a game where the primary infantry weapon can only fire with a 50 m range. 40K also entirely favours skilled list building rather than skilled play. So once lists are selected there are very few non trivial decision points in the game that will influence the outcome.

Ultimate answer as far as I'm concerned is - it depends on the game. The best of both can be just as good and there is nothing inherent to either that makes them superior in either aspect.
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Duc de Guise wrote:

The correct conclusion. Debate over.


As always, an edifying contribution.
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EyeLost wrote:
All models are wrong.…

I know that when I model things (albeit usually in science) I am generally attempting to come up with a model which is simply less wrong than the currently accepted model.
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Jon_1066 wrote:
Ultimate answer as far as I'm concerned is - it depends on the game. The best of both can be just as good and there is nothing inherent to either that makes them superior in either aspect.


I agree completely.

And I wouldn't draw too many conclusions about minis games from Flames of War or 40k like I don't evaluate all board wargames based on Axis & Allies or Risk. It's about the game and the rules, not the medium.
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One of the finest gaming experience I have had revolved around miniatures - Naval Campaigns with REAL charts and an ex - NAVY NCO as our Game Master.

FOW abundant; excellent GMing and our own modified set of rules based on Seapower and Clear for Action.

I got into IT because of this play - we were programming a TRS-80 to do some of the gaming work.

Another fine experience was sand table based company to battalion level operations using 1/285 troops - again with a good GM.


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Agreed, it completely depends on the rule set and what you want to achieve.

I'm not sure that there are any minis rules that care how your troops cooked breakfast but there's at least one set that cares when and where they ate.

Also minis rules seem to give far more consideration to morale and command and control, although I'll agree that many popular and competition rules seem to throw all of that in the bin.

Boardgamers might have CNA and ASL but UK minis gamers of a certain age are still haunted by memories of "Newbury Fast Play".

(I don't know if there was ever a "Newbury Slow Play" set, if there was the playtesters should be on turn 2 by now.)
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Just wanted to add my voice to the "it depends on what you want from the game" faction stirring up here.

The quest for realism and simulation value is fine, but having been to Afghanistan courtesy of the US Army, at least from what I saw, a lot of war is, quite frankly, incredibly and inexorably boring, and I would loathe playing a game that forced me to simulate post-patrol storyboards or what happens when PFC Foul-up drops his night vision goggles in the middle of a march and now everyone's got to stop the movement to find them or having to call the S-3 Air to have him call the nearest general officer to authorize an airstrike...

So you expect a lot of it to be abstracted.

Minis games just abstract different factors than hex and counter or block games, and that's largely player preference.

I do think that both board games and minis games allow for skill-based victories, and it's much more dependent on the individual system in question than "Does it have minis?" I think board games go further towards simulation the more you head down that line, but there's also a considerable amount of simplified board wargames that are much more abstracted than the average mini-based tactical game.
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Mike Hoyt

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m3tan wrote:
blockhead wrote:
Pandora’s Box indeed! Thanks for setting me off Michael, however inadvertently.

If you want to my detailed opinion on the matter, I actually wrote an entire blog about small unit tactical wargames when I was the lead designer on War Stories: Red Storm. Unfortunately I had to drop out of the project for personal reasons (bitter divorce and custody battle) and most of my design never saw the light of day. For the record, my finished design was scrapped in favor of a brand new game for reasons I'm not privy to. Although I cited ASL as a boardgame simulation, those comments were somewhat off the cuff - it is a game that many others, not me personally, consider a simulation. ASL is actually one of my poster children for bad 80's concept of "what is a simulation". I pretty much categorically dismiss all perfect information games as simulations. Especially if suppressing a unit makes it easier to kill (ironic since that is the case for the published game that bears my name on it - sigh...). In any event, 1000 pages of gobbledygook about penetration values and turret traverse speeds are meaningless if you can't get the basics right. That is why Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles is an infinitely better simulation (and game) than Advanced Squad Leader. And obviously, I concur on your comments about Force on Force.

There is fundamentally no reason why a boardgame should be more "realistic" than a miniatures game, but after attempting to merge the two genres with War Stories (below is a War Stories demo at Origins 2012), I gained alot of insight.


Most BGG wargamers are wired completely differently than collectible miniatures wargamers. Now I realize, there are some folks who play both, but the two camps have shockingly different concepts of what is realistic. Most miniatures gamers can't be bothered with things like diminishing firepower as range increases or variable terrain movement costs. Many games have ultra simple rules like "it's in range or its not" or "move until you hit trees then stop". They just don't see any value in hexes and think they are "unrealistic" because they don't allow infinite facings or micro movements. Many games don't even have opportunity fire which frankly I can't even fathom. And forget about fog of war or limited command capabilites (the notable exception being CrossFire: Rules & Organizations for Company Level WW2 Gaming). When I tried to explain those concepts to Flames of War: The World War II Miniatures Game players, their eyes just glazed over.

Frankly, I see the same phenomenon with WW2 grand strategy games. Axis & Allies has a cult following of players than seem to live in a completely different universe than guys who grew up on A3R. I've lost count of how many homebrew "monster" A&A games I've seen where "realism" just means more areas, more dice, and many more types of plastic pieces. Meanwhile, they rarely think to add fog-of-war, supply, etc... There is something about the lure of miniatures which makes it OK to just dumb down everything else...


Thanks for your response Michael, and letting me riff on your "off the cuff" comments without taking offense. Good discussion. And yes, I think both Band of Brothers and Force on Force do a good job focusing on the important stuff without getting bogged down in complex rules trying to cover the trivia. No rivet counting there.

When you switch to discussing Axis and Allies you are not only switching to a strategic scale, but you are also switching away from miniatures as any Miniatures player would understand the term. A&A is a game with pawns shaped like soldiers. The games bear only the vaguest resemblance to reality and have no desire to be more than they are, games. I'd agree with you, A&A is a different universe (called Ameritrash) from A3R which at least aims to be more of a simulation. Which is fine, I enjoy me some Ameritrash once in awhile, but I wouldn't want to call A&A a miniatures game.

Now I need to go read your blog. Sorry about the divorce and War Stories, I pulled out of that one despite what sounded like some interesting ideas when it became a cluster...Seems like you have a lot of good ideas, keep your chin up!
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johnhawkwood2010 wrote:
The quest for realism and simulation value is fine, but having been to Afghanistan courtesy of the US Army, at least from what I saw, a lot of war is, quite frankly, incredibly and inexorably boring, and I would loathe playing a game that forced me to simulate post-patrol storyboards or what happens when PFC Foul-up drops his night vision goggles in the middle of a march and now everyone's got to stop the movement to find them


While I agree with the general feeling about the boredom found in war (which I get to observe from thankfully further away), I have to say I always found this point moot when it comes to tactical games. After all, what is simulated is the actual action. So not the patrol that runs around and finds nothing, nor the patrol that runs over an IED and awaits rescue, but the patrol that encounters the enemy and enters combat.

The question is then how much realism and simulation you want from that point on.
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I generally dislike miniatures because (in my limited experience) game play frequently dissolves into a series of tedious arguments about a couple degrees of arc or a fraction of an inch of range. If I wanted to waste my time with endless repetitions of "yes, I am" and "no, you're not" I'd go hang out on the playground with grade-schoolers.

Yeah, I know that statement's going to offend, but that's not my intent. The point is that by having a regulated grid (be it hexes, squares, areas, or point-to-point) those sorts of distractions evaporate and players are free to focus on actual game play rather than picayune details.
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