Dave King
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Bloodless, Dice Happy War Games

Whatever happened to war games that awarded skill, punished incompetents, and actually had units taking manpower losses? When did Political Correctness become a central aspect of war game design? With few exceptions, every game I've picked up recently uses morale checks, cohesion losses, tons of dice rolls, or other factors to resolve what used to be decided by a Combat Results Table (CRT) and a 6-sided die. It's as if war games don't want to admit that they're about war, combat, and inflicting kills on the opponent.

Here's a few examples of what I'm talking about:

In the latest iteration of Third Reich (from Avalanche), there is no CRT. Instead you rely on a bucket of dice to resolve every combat situation. In the several games I've played, it's not unusual that an attack at 7-1 odds or greater loses, because of a bad roll of the 14 dice dumped out by the attacker and four sixes rolled by the defender. That's absurd and with a CRT it wouldn't happen (yes, a CRT might result in an exchange, but the defender still loses the space and the attacker advances, which is as it should be at the very least). What's worse, is that all this dice rolling takes lots more time, so a game goes hours longer than it should. Who decided that the bucket-of-dice approach was more fun? Or just as applicable?

In the Great Battles of History series from GMT (Alexander, Caesar, et al), units don't take actual losses of men; they lose "cohesion" points. Units roll a die for morale before the combat roll, then roll for the combat result, then roll again for morale to determine the extent of retreat. If cavalry is involved, they even roll to see if they can pursue. That's 3 to 4 rolls for a single combat situation and maybe nobody dies--they just don't hang together so well. Back then, you lose you die. If your spirits go bad, you die, If you get chased by cavalry, you die.

In the Panzer Grenadier series from Avalanche (an update of the Panzer Blitz system from AH), it takes forever to actually kill a unit. If this frustrates you and you get aggressive, you'll lose too many steps and lose the game. No reward for taking an objective--you have to do it relatively bloodlessly. The CRTs have "M"s all over the place and these are morale checks. You roll for the fire/assault result and then you roll again to see if the unit passes its morale check. You pour fire on a unit in the open and all it does is check to see if it still feels good about itself, which more often than not it does. But even if it is a little bummed out, it only becomes disrupted. One player (on BoardGameGeek) who got frustrated by this revised the various CRTs in the game and cut the time periods in half, so he could get the satisfaction of seeing something die on the battlefield. You go Bubba.

In the Glory series from GMT, an attack consists of the defender rolling against the attacker's morale, the attacker rolling against the defender's morale (if he survived the defender's roll), then the losing defender or attacker rolling again for morale after retreating. But, if a unit should be taken off the map after all of this, it goes to the "Withdraw" box where it gets another chance to roll for morale and survival. You fire artillery only to get the chance to see if a unit can make it's morale roll and stand in place. Maybe I've misread the battlefield reports, but I'm pretty sure people died and if enough of them died the unit ran like hell to get away from it all. Running into point-blank artillery grapeshot meant soldiers would go down, not just that they wouldn't feel good about their prospects.

In Tide of Iron, one of my favorite new games, everything is resolved with a bucket of dice. They give you 20 of them and you'll often need more. But on the plus side, you actually inflict body-count losses on the enemy. But as with any bucket-of-dice game, you get the utter impossibility of a unit surviving an A-bomb drop because of good dice.

Aside from the lack of cardboard blood there is the progressively diminished skill factor with every dice roll. If it takes me four rolls to decide the outcome of a combat that's four times luck comes into the final result. If I roll 12 dice versus 1, that's 11 more times luck comes into the end-result equation. That probably means that I'm maneuvering to create the greatest number of dice rolls instead of the greatest probability of battlefield success--and they are different effects. For example, I created a 12-sided die CRT for Avalanche's Third Reich and the game play was decidedly different and more appropriate to the situation being modeled. I reduded the number of die rolls and turned "cohesion" losses into body counts in GBoH and got more historical results. Let's emphasize skill and not luck. Isn't that the point of war games? If I'm wrong here, Risk and Axis & Allies are just as valid as true war games as War Between the States and Combat Commander.

I could go on, but you get the point. I also will say that none of these are bad "games," I do have fun playing them, and they may even reflect historical results, albeit without the body count of the original actions. Morale does have a part in game design, but it shouldn't be the key element of a unit's survival on the battlefield. War is war and "war" games should be about war. That means casualties, body counts, destroyed towns, death and destruction in general. If this ain't your cup of tea, then play some silly Euro game. If all you want to do is roll dice, then go find a craps game.

The publishing companies should keep one thing in mind--war is not politically correct and neither are games about war. So get back to designing war games that reflect the consequences of war. In the end, that may be the most politically correct course to follow.
 
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Jason Rahman
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In regard to your comment about Panzer Grenadier, you're are dead wrong. First of all Panzer Grenadier is NOT like Panzer Blitz at all, many concepts are far different such as infantry firepower being different from AT firepower along with many, many other things. Second of all a platoon just doesn't just disappear from the map in one attack, this isn't ASL for crying out loud.

We're talking about 200m hexes here, you have to either assault or fire point blank if you want to kill or demoralize any enemy units. Just look at the assault chart, see how deadly it is, now take another look at the direct fire chart and see what a +2 modifier will do. You must be spoiled from all the games where you get your way all the time and kill everything that you hit!
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Chris Ferejohn
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Is anyone else having a problem comprehending the connection between political correctness and method of combat resolution? It sounds like you are complaining that recent games are too luck dependent, which is a perfectly reasonable gripe, but I don't see how it relates to political correctness.
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Patrick Martin
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It seems funny to me to attribute the mechanic you've described to pc-designers...

Why does a DE result that eliminates an enemy unit signify to you "body count" while a cascade of failed morale rolls that results in elimination of an enemy unit does not? There's abstraction either way, isn't it up to the players how they imagine what is transpiring?

While I don't like "buckets of dice" in all games, it can be thematically appropriate... to take a miniatures example, in The Sword and the Flame, (a skirmish level Victorian-colonialism ruleset) melees are resolved by throwing a D6 for every figure fighting and then comparing them to their opponents' rolls... to me all that rolling evokes the frenzy of a swirling close-in fight with bayonets and spears.
 
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Dave King
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Actually it's very similar--platoons, 250 meter scale (vs. 200 meters), range, etc., but you are absolutely correct in the more sophisticated treatment of firepower differences. I wasn't making a correlation with ASL at all, which of course is an entirely diffenrent scale. But, for example, in a recent game of PG: East Front my losing opponent thought he had taken rather heavy losses when 6 of 30 units were lost. Still the German player, with 2 units eliminated, lost the game. Obviously, no reward for tactical prowess. The close assault CRT is only deadly if an inept opponent lets you get that close. The +2 modifier on the DF CRT only means you have greater liklihood of becoming disordered or demoralized and thus losing fire effectiveness and the ability to move next to enemy units. Which is my point exactly--you don't die; you get to recover morale and then try again--over and over. And if you hit something, shouldn't something die, or at least be so severely impaired that it can't come back at full strength? That doesn't happen in any of the games mentioned.
 
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Paul O'Connor
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Wooden soldiers have been dying from buckets o' dice in Columbia block games since 1972. I don't see a PC connection.

I do agree that the proliferation of buckets o' dice at the expense of CRTs can be annoying. I think game companies are trying to chase a wargame market comprised of a generation raised on Games Workshop games where roll to-hit/roll to save is the norm. Each system has its place but removing the CRT from something like Third Reich seems silly.
 
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Brad Andrews
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Something missed in this post is that smaller forces have, on occasion, held out against much stronger foes. That does happen in real life, though it is rare, as it should be.

Brad
 
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Dave King
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It is not Politically Correct to compete, to harm, to feel schadenfreude, yet those are all basic elements of the classic war game. I kinda thought this was obvious and didn't need explanation.
 
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Dave King
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The point here was not so much the end result as the umpteen time-consuming die rolls to get there. If it's more fun to roll dice over and over and more realistic to bring in the element of luck repeatedly, then I stand corrected.
 
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Wulf Corbett
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dking232 wrote:
If it's more fun to roll dice over and over and more realistic to bring in the element of luck repeatedly, then I stand corrected.

Relying on a single die roll is far more a matter of luck than multiple rolls. And having a game decided on luck is far less fun than deciding based on the players skill. So, relying on multiple rolls reduces the emphasis on luck, and increases fun.

You may stand.
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Seth Owen
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As far as the bucket of dice goes, personally I like rolling dice and the more the merrier.
Furthermore, from a simulation standpoint they are very defensible, because they tend to give average results while providing for occasional outliers. This matches history much better than a CRT which makes things too deterministic because of the limited number of possible results from a single D6 or D10 roll.
Read a little more history.

As far as the "political correctness" goes, I think that criticism is based on a completely mistaken and fallacious notion on warfare and combat.
Breaking the other guy's morale is generally what it's all about and it has always been such. Killing the enemy is indispensible to that aim but is not a substitute for it.
It's not being "PC" to recognize that morale is the true target, it's being realistic. Thinking otherwise comes from playing too many video games or watching too many Rambo movies, perhaps.
It used to be a standard line in old-style hex-and-counter wargame rulebooks to explain that the "elim" in D-elim didn't mean that everybody in the lost unit was an actual casualty. Eliminated in game terms has always meant that the unit's combat effectiveness was gone, not that it was wiped out.
Perhaps that needs to be reinserted in games like Tide of Iron so that new wargamers will understand that.
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Eric Jome
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Real warfare is influenced a great deal more by the morale of the fighters than their actual casualties.
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J.L. Robert
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You actually like the concept of a 1 in 6 chance of 5000 troops (and their inherent materiel) suddenly disappearing?

Incremental losses are a more realistic method of conflict resolution. Combat units are extremely rarely eliminated to the man. Step losses, loss of cohesion, and gradual degradation of effectiveness is more in line to what actually happens to a real unit, from a fire team up to an entire army group.

If you prefer the "good old days" of CRT's, AX results and more pieces in the body box than on the map, those games are still playable.

But, as Billy Joel wrote, "the good old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."
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castiglione
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Bucket o' dice is PC?

LOL.

Dude - REMOVE the tin foil hat from your noggin'.

CRT's fell out of fashion because they allowed bean counters to shuffle units around so that no attack point was wasted.

Bucket o' dice is tedious but it does give a nice "bell curvian" spread of results, doesn't require constant reference to a table during combat and defeats the whole CPA approach to war.
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Craig Maksimik
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I do agree on the playability point of many games dragging on by constant morale checks.
My main gripe right now is with Panzer Grenadier. It is fine for very small battles, but with many of the massive scenario's its just mind-numbing to constantly roll to check morale for every casualty.
For me it is just a matter of game play. In the games I've played the momentum and excitement of a wargame is crushed under a book-keeping morale system.
When I play a war "game" I want to have an exciting, tense, game of good ol' death and destruction. devil
 
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Hunga Dunga
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The good ol' games from the good ol' days are still fun to play, but over the years war games have become much more sophisticated, and frankly, a much better recreation of the decisions facing military commanders.
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Jeff
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I think this demonstrates that the term "politically correct" is completely devoid of meaning.
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ExcitingJeff wrote:
I think this demonstrates the that the term "politically correct" is completely devoid of meaning.


    Where have you people been? "Politically Correct" is both offensive to people in public service and overtly deterministic. The new phrase is "Societally Acceptable."

    For goodness sake think of the children -- if you can't be SA you shouldn't be posting at all.

             Sag.


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Dave King
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Unless you have a PhD in history, you probably can't match my reading in the field.
Certainly, morale has always been a factor in the defeat of an enemy, but not the dominant or only factor--U.S. Grant focused on destroying the ANV. Nazi morale was destroyed long before their armies were and still they fought on. In the ancient world, only the anhialation of the enemy army counted as a real victory. At some point loss of bodies becomes loss of morale and sometimes the morale loss occurs first, as in the French in WWII. The Poles lost a tremendous number of bodies in 1939 before morale ever became an issue.
For all of you answering this item, the PC aspect was meant to express a general softening in the expression of wargaming combat results--more morale and cohesion type results than actual "kills"--so that the concept of bodies on the field is blurred.
A CRT may be "deterministic" but that's exactly the point. At 3-1 odds, it's pretty well determined that the defender will lose; the only question is how much the attacker will lose in the process. The statistical probabilities are built into the CRT perhaps more than the bucket of dice, which can yield results totally outside statistical probability.
I don't deny morale as a key factor in battle results. My point concerns the trend to make a combat seem bloodless, which it never can be.
 
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Dave King
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I think you missed my point entirely. First, a CRT (remember they also had factor, step, and retreat results to both defender and attacker) saves a lot of dice rolling and therefore a lot of time. Second, at some point actual body counts occur and this usually happens before loss of morale.
And remember, I did say I enjoy the current genre of wargames. I just think they unnecessarily extend playing time with too much dice rolling and they put the cart before the horse by making morale more important than physical loss of bodies on the ground.
 
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Dave King
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Exactly. Most efficient use of forces allocated. Notice the numbers on all those cardboard pieces--bean counter stuff.
Anyhow, pretty cool topic, huh?
 
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Steve Herron
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Quote:
it's not unusual that an attack at 7-1 odds or greater loses, because of a bad roll of the 14 dice dumped out by the attacker and four sixes rolled by the defender.


That is why I didn't like their Defiant Russia game, it didn't make any sense on big attacks I have stayed away from their games.
 
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Brad Miller
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castiglione wrote:
Bucket o' dice is PC?

LOL.

Dude - REMOVE the tin foil hat from your noggin'.


Agreed. Someone's been watching too much Fox News or something...
 
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Brad Miller
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dking232 wrote:
Unless you have a PhD in history, you probably can't match my reading in the field.


Ummm, I think Seth may have a PhD in history...
 
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steven richard
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Whenever I see somebody on the internet whining about anything being "politically correct" it's either one of two things:

A) Somebody complaining about how they wish they could be more openly bigoted, or

B) Nothing at all to do with anything "politically correct" in any way.

So, in a way, I guess, (given the options) it's a good thing that this post was the latter.
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