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Subject: Under-represented Factors rss

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Steve Pole

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I remember my father telling me how when the end of WWII was in sight, and the Germans had clearly had enough and were surrendering in droves, even the bravest men in his unit became much less gung-ho. Suddenly, with the very real prospect of surviving the War even though the enemy were less dangerous than previously, no-one wanted to risk putting their head above the parapet (as it were).

I mention this because the willingness to fight (morale/leadership) is such a difficult quarry to capture within a game and yet, along with the ability to do so (logistics/organisation), it is the key to the success of any operation/campaign. And, as the above example suggests, a unit’s willingness to fight is a complex and changing characteristic; one which may be diminished by victory as well as by defeat.

I’ve just played a game which has clearly been wonderfully researched in many ways, and includes some clever rules; but, morale does not really feature, overtly at least. The reason, presumably, is “scale”. The designer was painting on a large canvass. However, this did not prevent the representation of (to my mind) relatively fine distinctions between troop-types and equipment in terms of combat and movement factors.

I should make clear that I am not really a fan of large complicated games (I’m much happier at the cheap and cheerful end of the spectrum) and tend not to play too many, so the following question comes from a position of fairly profound ignorance. However, I wonder if our games tend to be skewed as models by emphasizing those factors which it is easiest to quantify – such as combat and movement - at the expense of considerations such as morale, as important if not more important to success or failure, which defy quantification.
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Bob Zurunkel
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St-Lô has a rule that addresses this. You can push your units to move and fight more, but with the risk that they may lose their morale and become ineffective. The hitch is that the U.S. player cannot achieve his victory goal without pushing units to their breaking point.
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Ground Pounder
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IMHO one of the key innovative features of Michael Resch's WWI Games is a system of tracking morale independent of casualties in an operational-level game through "combat effectiveness levels" for each unit that go down but can be recovered. Of course, this requires some effort and table space devoted to tracking the CELs, but I think it does the best job I've seen at simulating this above the tactical level.
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Matt Dangla
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I think it's also the case of artillery ammo consumption during battles.

The recent Gettysburg by Mark herman takes this factor into account in a very elegant way.
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Tony Doran
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The old SPI game Next War had an interesting method. You could move and fight as long as you wanted to (there was a final upper limit) but at risk of “fatigue” which lowered your capabilities. It really was a morale issue.
 
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Carl Paradis
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Rubenpup wrote:
I remember my father telling me how when the end of WWII was in sight, and the Germans had clearly had enough and were surrendering in droves, even the bravest men in his unit became much less gung-ho. Suddenly, with the very real prospect of surviving the War even though the enemy were less dangerous than previously, no-one wanted to risk putting their head above the parapet (as it were).
One of my uncles fought in the German Army as a Panzergrenadier NCO on the East front. And I can assure you that in the East, the closest the Soviets came to Germany, the hardest they fought. Soviet casulaties in 1945 are there to attest...

Rubenpup wrote:
However, I wonder if our games tend to be skewed as models by emphasizing those factors which it is easiest to quantify – such as combat and movement - at the expense of considerations such as morale, as important if not more important to success or failure, which defy quantification.
Hard to tell. Depend on the game' designer. As, for one, always take into account morale and other "soft" factors in my games. In fact I find these relatively easy to quantify when you get good historical sources. And historical results are a good guide also. But at some scales it could be a more difficult proposition. meeple
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Steve Pole

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Carl,

That's really interesting. I guess, in a very personal/small way it epitomises the difference between the East and West fronts.

Steve
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Jason Cawley
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I don't think morale is under covered in wargames. It might have been before Squad Leader but that was 40 years ago.

If anything, unit quality ratings are too extreme in their effects in many modern game systems. OCS 5s vs 2s may serve as an example. Or the amount of total firepower a 7 (let alone an 8) QL unit will absorb in a Glory system civil war battle before it notices that fire.

Where there does tend to be some limitation is in morale systems above the individual unit level. Many grand tactical games do have a global demoralization level, but later WW1 and WW2 tactical games often don't. A few games have "BCE" systems reducing the effectiveness of wider formations for losses to their other subunits, but honestly these are relatively rare in modern designs. The closest one generally gets is chit activation systems in which a "wrecked" formation is less important because half its units are gone and others reduced but it still only activates those, together.

But those are small gaps compared to modeling it at all. And it anything, the scale of morale effects ought to be compressed, with only modest differences between better than average and average, and between average and worse than average. In grand tactical games, 5s vs 8s can mean 5 times the ability to withstand enemy fire without any form of protection besides bravery, supposedly. I don't think so. In systems like OCS, a single battalion with a 5 ER can be strongly favored over an entire division with a 2 ER. Again, I don't think so. There should be benefits but not ones this large.
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Carl Paradis
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JasonC wrote:

I don't think morale is under covered in wargames.
Sure it is, you can easily factor this into the units strength points at the higher scales. You don't need to have a specific morale vale on the units. For lower-scale units you can add this to the units experience levels. Anyway it depends on the game's mechanic, scale and combat engine; very hard to discuss this in general terms, better to perhaps focus the discussion on a specific period, and scale.
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Dan Fielding
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As the enemy goes into worse "demoralization states" due to a higher level strategic situation (eg overall points losses) then your own forces don't fight as hard.

That might be represented by taking one less loss and doing 2 fewer damage than what the CRT indicates. Or standing instead of following up. Or retreating instead of holding.
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Jason Cawley
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Carl - I don’t think you understood my construction. I said not undercovered. I didn’t say not covered, nor undercovered. I was disagreeing with the OPs claim or suggestion that morale in not covered or not covered enough.
 
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Crian
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My vote would go for two things:
1: Fog of war (because it's really difficult to do in a board game)
and
2: Commands not getting through, not being acted on, or similar. And units deciding to do their own thing. A 'morale check failed, unit doesn't advance' is pretty common, but a 'order gets garbled, unit goes left instead of right' or 'unit sees what it thinks is an opening, attacks' event seems fairly uncommon.
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Peter Mogensen
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CrianEd wrote:
My vote would go for two things:
1: Fog of war (because it's really difficult to do in a board game)
Yeah...
I once tried to host a game mastered blind MBT (first edition) game. It went, kinda ok,... but we ran out of time due to the complexity of actually game mastering it (and sore feet on behalf of the game master).

Doing real fog-of-war (blind or double-blind) in a hex-n-counter wargame is really really hard. But it can be done by computers. https://www.wesnoth.org/ is an example of this and it does so really well.

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Steve Pole

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I agree that the format and structure of games often tends to minimize the fog surrounding the historical event/situation. This jars against the feelings of confusion and uncertainty which are a leitmotiv of the contemporary writings of those taking decisions at the sharp end.

Maybe it's inevitable, but we seem to go out of our way to provide players with far more quantitative information than their historical counterparts. To take one obvious example, not only do they know the position of units involved in a given campaign/operation; but, the capabilities of those units in terms of combat and movement are helpfully printed on the counters representing them.

What prompted the OP was a suspicion that as players are provided with more quantitative information so that increases in significance relative to qualitative factors which, historically, were just as important in determining the outcome of a given campaign/operation.
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marc lecours
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Maybe morale should be a secret information that only the owning player knows about their units (and even they might not be completely sure). You have to guess at the morale of the enemy troops by their behavior. You don't know in advance whether the enemy unit will retreat, surrender or fight to the death.
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Brian McCue
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moriarty wrote:
CrianEd wrote:
My vote would go for two things:
1: Fog of war (because it's really difficult to do in a board game)
Yeah...
I once tried to host a game mastered blind MBT (first edition) game. It went, kinda ok,... but we ran out of time due to the complexity of actually game mastering it (and sore feet on behalf of the game master).
We did that, and it went well enough that we did it more than once.

In formulating the rules, I noticed an interesting thing: the double-blind game was, on the whole, simpler than the RAW game. The reason was that a number of MBT's rules are there to keep the players from capitalizing up on the fact that they know too much: take away that problem, and you can take away those rules.

It was slow and I got sore feet, but it was also a great experience and it left me even more convinced that fog-of-war is under-represented, that it can be provided by double-blind play, and that double-blind play can actually be simpler than its opposite, which I call Wotanspiel.

Lately I've become convinced that fatigue is also under-represented; I think that it can be conceptualized about as well as we conceptualize anything (take a guess and playtest it), but that implementation could become very fiddly.

It might be really interesting to take some game, define what leads to the condition of Fatigued, and then say that Fatigued units simply disappear: they don't count against VP, but they are taken off the board. This would be a major simplificaiton if ever there was one, but a) I wonder what kind ot play would result, and b) removal might be less unrealisti than what we do now, which is to leave them on the board and let them keep fighting.

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Jason Cawley
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marc - I think the idea of hidden morale ratings is a bad solution in search of a problem, and misunderstands the nature of chance in wargames.

Factors unknowable to both sides in a wargame and therefore not subject to command control by either side are represented in the game engines as random determinations.

A morale 7 unit differs from a morale 6 unit by its successes on normal morale checks being if 2D6 6/36 more common, if 1D10 1/10 more common. The unit will be subject to some number of such stresses (maybe with DRMs in some game systems) over its operational life in a given outing. All such units as a set will experience "runs" of good or bad rolls. The binomial bells that result overlap for most of their range. An unlucky morale 7 unit will break more than a lucky morale 6 one subject to the same stresses.

There is no difference whatsoever between the unit's hidden morale being different and its Z score in the bell curve of its morale roll results randomly having a different value.

A *known* different morale rating can have other effects. It can affect the ways the commander will subject it to stresses, his choices of when to try to rally and when to try to run, his willingness to accept a given straight up duel vs an enemy of a known morale rating, and the like. But an *unknown* different morale rating is operationally exactly the same as a different random realization out of the same binomial chance resolution.

Having morale systems at all in the first place that resolve battle outcomes by random checks is already the implementation of uncertainty of effects of fire or of unit performances under fire. They are already the best "fog of war" there is - you don't know the future die roll and can't control it.

You just add extra hidden states and a need for an umpire and endless fiddle, all the reproduce the exact same effects as "this unit rolled well, and that unit rolled badly".
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Steve Pole

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I suppose it's a bit like the old adage that management gurus are so keen on trotting out about how all to often we focus too heavily upon factors which can be quantified to the detriment of those equally important factors which cannot (until a wheel falls off).

Or, in game terms, the more data available to players which would not have been available to their historical counterparts the greater the likelihood that decisions will be based on considerations which did not feature historically.

This is not to disparage complicated/large games with bucket-loads of data/factors. Far from it. Many I've come across work really well as games. And, I stand in awe of the historical research upon which they are based and have nothing but admiration for their designers; but, I suspect that the undoubted depth of experience which they can engender is primarily autotelic, rather than historical.
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Brian McCue
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Rubenpup wrote:
... autotelic...
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Ryan Keane
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What the OP is talking about happens a lot when I play long 2-player games, in a sense.

Once it’s become obvious I’m going to win, but it’s still going to take hours to complete the game and achieve the official win conditions, I’m less willing to keep playing. The game is telling me “You must fight on and win total victory” and I’m like “Nah, I just want to play something else. The war’s over and I don’t want to be bored to death playing to the end.”

Conversely, once it’s become obvious I’m going to lose, I may want to concede (surrender) and play something else, unless the game is super-fun. Now, maybe if my opponent said “ok, but for every unit that doesn’t die in battle you’ll have to play an hour of Monopoly”, then I’d play to the bitter end. No Monopoly gulags for me.

If the game really is simulating war, shouldn’t it be total hell to keep playing and you want to quit the game as soon as possible? whistle

But seriously, I think for a more tactical platoon level game, it would be interesting to incorporate semi-random aspects of how the overall war is going, which the 2 players have no control over, into how well the players are able to command their troops. And make it non-linear, so perhaps at both extremes, when the war is going really badly and when it’s going really well, your command effectiveness is diminished in different ways.
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Ryan Keane
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I would add that this discussion is why I do consider The Grizzled a “wargame” because it captures some of these aspects that are such a big part of actual war but largely missing or so abstracted in traditional wargames. The game can really portrat those feelings of despair or hope “We might just survive this war” if you let it, despite the very abstract card play mechanics.
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Robert Stuart
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It's interesting that you bring this up. I notice, in my wargames (most of which have been solo in recent years) that when one side is close to a strategic victory the player of that side (me) becomes very conservative with his pieces and his attacks, not wanting to take risks; wanting to save as many units as possible. The other side, however, throws caution to the winds. This dynamic -- arch conservatism vs recklessness -- often results in the game playing out for two or three turns longer than it otherwise would.
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Ryan Keane
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bob_santafe wrote:
It's interesting that you bring this up. I notice, in my wargames (most of which have been solo in recent years) that when one side is close to a strategic victory the player of that side (me) becomes very conservative with his pieces and his attacks, not wanting to take risks; wanting to save as many units as possible. The other side, however, throws caution to the winds. This dynamic -- arch conservatism vs recklessness -- often results in the game playing out for two or three turns longer than it otherwise would.
Yes, I play solo both/all sides a good amount as well, and I sometimes do the same. With solo play, because the win conditions are objectives but not why I’m playing (I’m always going to both win and lose), and I don’t really have any time constraints of playing time, other factors outside the game can seep into my thinking, related to what type of narrative I want to observe, how I want to test out different tactics, etc. A lot of it is probably sub-conscious. So some of these behaviors related conservatism vs recklessness can become emergent properties of the game, without any explicit morale rules.
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Daniel Blumentritt
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Quote:
A morale 7 unit differs from a morale 6 unit by its successes on normal morale checks being if 2D6 6/36 more common, if 1D10 1/10 more common. The unit will be subject to some number of such stresses (maybe with DRMs in some game systems) over its operational life in a given outing. All such units as a set will experience "runs" of good or bad rolls. The binomial bells that result overlap for most of their range. An unlucky morale 7 unit will break more than a lucky morale 6 one subject to the same stresses.

There is no difference whatsoever between the unit's hidden morale being different and its Z score in the bell curve of its morale roll results randomly having a different value.
In that case there's no difference between a 13 and a 1, since they are indistinguishable from a unit that got a lucky roll every time and one that got an unlucky roll ever time.
 
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Bob Zurunkel
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Ryan Keane wrote:
What the OP is talking about happens a lot when I play long 2-player games, in a sense.

Once it’s become obvious I’m going to win, but it’s still going to take hours to complete the game and achieve the official win conditions, I’m less willing to keep playing. The game is telling me “You must fight on and win total victory” and I’m like “Nah, I just want to play something else. The war’s over and I don’t want to be bored to death playing to the end.”

Conversely, once it’s become obvious I’m going to lose, I may want to concede (surrender) and play something else, unless the game is super-fun. Now, maybe if my opponent said “ok, but for every unit that doesn’t die in battle you’ll have to play an hour of Monopoly”, then I’d play to the bitter end. No Monopoly gulags for me.

If the game really is simulating war, shouldn’t it be total hell to keep playing and you want to quit the game as soon as possible? whistle

But seriously, I think for a more tactical platoon level game, it would be interesting to incorporate semi-random aspects of how the overall war is going, which the 2 players have no control over, into how well the players are able to command their troops. And make it non-linear, so perhaps at both extremes, when the war is going really badly and when it’s going really well, your command effectiveness is diminished in different ways.
I don't know if it's been done, but it would be interesting to see a tactical level (or above) game that might punish (or reward) one for how successful one was. "Well, you had no trouble handling that armored attack, so we're going to take that tank company from you and give it to your neighbor who's under more pressure."
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