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Subject: My First Old-School, ZOC-wielding, CRT-toting War Game rss

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Mary Weisbeck
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My playing of this little print-and-play game came about due to a post I made in the war game forums asking for help in learning how to think tactically. I thought it a dumb request but got a LOT of support, suggestions, and a few who thanked me because they were in the same place. What I did not expect was an offer to teach me a game from the ground up, kind of the War Game For Dummies version. But that's what I got from RaffertyA, and I appreciate it more than I can say.

Napoleon At Waterloo was the game we decided on not just for its easy rule set and standard old-school war game mechanics but because Tim had a copy and I am not adverse to doing a little printing and cutting.



Napoleon at Waterloo is a very basic war game which teaches many basic war game mechanics. The rules are about as simple as you can ask for: I may move any or all of my units, then battles occur between adjacent enemy units using a CRT (combat result table), then my opponent takes his turn. The rules are even more simple than the frequently recommended Memoir ’44 since terrain offers very little to remember: each hex is one movement point whether it’s buildings, road, or forest with a road (forest without a road are impassable). Buildings double the defender’s value, making it harder to fight them.

The heart of the game, the tough decisions, and, ultimately, what killed it for me, is in the details. First is how the CRT works. This was new to me but is very familiar to long-time war gamers. Here’s how it works: count the fire power of the attacking units then compare that to the fire power of the defending units using odds, such as 1:1 or 3:1. Then roll a die and trace the result across the row to the column with the odds for this battle. This gives you the results. In this game you can get Attacker Retreat, Defender Retreat, Attacker Eliminated, Defender Eliminated, or Even Elimination. Even Elimination means that the Defender is eliminated but the Attacker must lose at least that much strength as well. If any Attackers remain, they may advance into the disputed hex.



This means that you are constantly computing odds and trying to figure a way to increase your firepower to give you better odds. This feels less like tactical war gaming and more like a mathematical evaluation. Even that wouldn’t have killed the fun aspect if not for the second thing: every unit (of both sides) that has an enemy adjacent to it must battle. I understand the logic of it, especially considering the time frame the game is set in, but it sucked the remaining fun from it. When faced with a line of enemy, you not only need to design an attack that gives you the best odds you can in each battle, but must be careful not to forget an enemy that you happened to touch while working towards good odds on another unit. Now it becomes more like a math puzzle, a relative of Sudoku, and can take a lot of thought and counter pushing to come up with a satisfactory solution. After 3 games, I decided that this wasn’t something I enjoyed.

One thing I did like was zones of control (ZOC). This is the area adjacent to a unit that it controls. In Napoleon, a unit moving into an enemy’s ZOC cannot move any further, and cannot leave that space except as a result of death or retreat. Also, a unit that is forced to retreat cannot enter a ZOC of his enemy, and is eliminated instead. That’s very cool and a tactic to be constantly aware of.

Although I found Napoleon at Waterloo not my kind of game exactly, I did enjoy the experience of learning about traditional war game mechanics and I came away with a better feel for overall tactics. I finally found myself looking at the whole and coming up with a loose plan, rather than just concentrating on a small part of the battlefield. Call this my first baby step.
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Darrell Hanning
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You want an enjoyable first wargame? This isn't it.

I strongly recommend Friedrich. But you'll need 3 or 4 players.

No zones of control, no mandatory combat, not a lot of number-crunching. What it does have is an emphasis on maneuvering, bluffing and psychology.
 
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Mary Weisbeck
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Thanks for the suggestion, Darrell. Unfortunately, at this point in time I'm having enough trouble finding ONE opponent! But I'll keep it in mind.
 
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John O'Haver PhoDOGrapher
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Congrats! You understand Soaking Off now? Right? And the importance of blocking retreat paths with ZOCs? And how to space units along the hex grain for best defensive coverage?

Whether you liked it or not, that's the kind of war game mechanics many of us grew up with. The same mechanics, with more chrome, are still at the heart of many more detailed games. Personally, these days, I'd rather roll special dice and read the symbols.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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DarrellKH wrote:
You want an enjoyable first wargame? This isn't it.


Not for Mary, but it was a very enjoyable first wargame for thousands of others over the years.

DarrellKH wrote:
No zones of control, no mandatory combat, not a lot of number-crunching.


Mary made a point of noting that she liked zones of control. And if one visualizes what's happening in the battle, the mandatory combat makes a great deal of sense, too. If you march units into close contact with enemy formations, you can't expect them to stand by idly while you destroy their friends on their flanks. If you engage them, you must fight.

DarrellKH wrote:
What it does have is an emphasis on maneuvering, bluffing and psychology.


Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Friedrich. It's a tremendous game. I've got a fondness for NaW as well, though, and don't want other beginning wargamers to think they should avoid it.
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Darrell Hanning
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Sphere wrote:
DarrellKH wrote:
You want an enjoyable first wargame? This isn't it.


Not for Mary, but it was a very enjoyable first wargame for thousands of others over the years.


I don't believe mandatory combat defines an "enjoyable first wargame" for much of anyone. It does nothing more than lead to a lot of first-game mistakes.

Sphere wrote:
DarrellKH wrote:
No zones of control, no mandatory combat, not a lot of number-crunching.


Mary made a point of noting that she liked zones of control. And if one visualizes what's happening in the battle, the mandatory combat makes a great deal of sense, too. If you march units into close contact with enemy formations, you can't expect them to stand by idly while you destroy their friends on their flanks. If you engage them, you must fight.


Yes, since I started wargaming 44 years ago, I'm familiar with the concept. That doesn't make it palatable for a first-timer. There are one helluva lot of choices available with ZoCs - that doesn't make NaW remotely special or necessarily appropriate.


Sphere wrote:
[Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Friedrich. It's a tremendous game. I've got a fondness for NaW as well, though, and don't want other beginning wargamers to think they should avoid it.


As I said, I think it's a bad idea for a first game. I can probably point at a dozen others that would be better. I nominated Friedrich because it has a small number of units (even fewer than NaW), does not embroil players in the mind-numbing exercise of "working the hex grain", and involves a great deal of cardplay and bluffing - not present in the older wargames - all in a package that can be learned in a matter of minutes.

For two-player, conventional wargames, I would nominate Chadwick's Battle for Moscow (first edition).
 
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Mary Weisbeck
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scribidinus wrote:

Congrats! You under stand Soaking Off now? Right? And the importance of blocking retreat paths with ZOCs? And how to space units along the hex grain for best defensive coverage?

Whether you liked it or not, that's the kind of war game mechanics many of us grew up with. The same mechanics, with more chrome, are still at the heart of many more detailed games. Personally, these days, I'd rather roll special dice and read the symbols.

Still a little fuzzy about the Soaking Off thing but it was explained to me.

Blocking retreats with ZOC is excellent! As Sphere says, the ZOCs make a lot of sense, especially in a time of in-your-face, hand-to-hand type of fighting.

Tim demonstrated the defensive spacing excellently during our 3rd game.
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DarrellKH wrote:
I don't believe mandatory combat defines an "enjoyable first wargame" for much of anyone.


The first conventional wargame I learned was Stalingrad, which had mandatory combat, and I assure you it was a very enjoyable experience for me. Just a matter of differing tastes.

DarrellKH wrote:
For two-player, conventional wargames, I would nominate Chadwick's Battle for Moscow (first edition).


I like that one too. Battle for Moscow (first edition) was GDW's intro game, just as Napoleon at Waterloo was SPI's. Both served the purpose well if you ask me.
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Robert Wesley
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I'd have suggested trying out some from these instead: Postcard from the Revolution


They're FREE and available under their 'Files' here on its entry. You may want to print out everything slightly bigger overall, to where this were large enough for your better enjoyment.
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Mary Weisbeck
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Sphere wrote:
I've got a fondness for NaW as well, though, and don't want other beginning wargamers to think they should avoid it.

I agree. I think it was a very good game to begin with even though it proved not to be quite my thing. As I said, it has simple rules, few counters (and types of counters), and many traditional war game mechanics to learn. And it's easy to see and understand the basic tactics needed. I would recommend it to someone wanting to learn war games.
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Mary Weisbeck
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Oh, wow, Robert! Those look great. I'll check them out. Thank you.
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Ethan McKinney
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An excellent review from the perspective of a true first-timer. Those of us who have been in the hobby for a long time often lose sight of how the mechanics seem to new players. Designers often forget what aspects of the games might not be enjoyable to players new to the genre.

Meanwhile, I'll continue enjoying high-complexity, 18-month playing time games like A Frozen Hell.
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Mary Weisbeck
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Sphere wrote:
DarrellKH wrote:
I don't believe mandatory combat defines an "enjoyable first wargame" for much of anyone.


The first conventional wargame I learned was Stalingrad, which had mandatory combat, and I assure you it was a very enjoyable experience for me. Just a matter of differing tastes.

DarrellKH wrote:
For two-player, conventional wargames, I would nominate Chadwick's Battle for Moscow (first edition).


I like that one too. Battle for Moscow (first edition) was GDW's intro game, just as Napoleon at Waterloo was SPI's. Both served the purpose well if you ask me.

For the record, I didn't mind the mandatory combat. Just like the ZOCs, it makes sense. But it did add a layer of difficulty to the puzzle of matching up units in such a way as to give myself good odds on every battle. THAT's the part that seemed less like I was using tactics in a war game, and more like some mathematical puzzle.

Battle For Moscow was one of the other games that we almost played. Would that truly have been less puzzle-like?
 
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sodaklady wrote:
Battle For Moscow was one of the other games that we almost played. Would that truly have been less puzzle-like?


I doubt that you would have reacted to it much differently. No mandatory combat, but still mainstream hex and counter.

My suggestion would be to try Quebec 1759 next. It is the simplest of the Columbia Games, which use wooden blocks and hidden unit types. No hexes, no CRT, but still very much a wargame.
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Darrell Hanning
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sodaklady wrote:
Battle For Moscow was one of the other games that we almost played. Would that truly have been less puzzle-like?


I disagree with George, obviously. Without mandatory combat, the player can focus on where to maximize his strength, without having to worry about the artifice of "soak-off" combats. It also has only 3(?) unit types (maybe only 2). It was designed by Frank Chadwick solely as an introductory wargame.
 
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j b Goodwin

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DarrellKH wrote:
You want an enjoyable first wargame? This isn't it.

Perhaps that's true for you, but there are thousands of players who would say otherwise.

DarrellKH wrote:
I strongly recommend Friedrich. But you'll need 3 or 4 players.

No zones of control, no mandatory combat, not a lot of number-crunching. What it does have is an emphasis on maneuvering, bluffing and psychology.

What you have is a multiplayer Euro with a war theme. But a better intro to wargaming? I wouldn't say that at all.
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Sphere wrote:
My suggestion would be to try Quebec 1759 next. It is the simplest of the Columbia Games, which use wooden blocks and hidden unit types. No hexes, no CRT, but still very much a wargame.

I agree. the best block wargame to bring to an interested newcomer.
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Mary,

Its good to see you trying new games and reviewing what you like and disliked about the game played. From your later comment I take it you found Odds making and/or mandatory attacks just annoying and not something you really hated. ?

When learning games with new mechanics sometimes the mechanics can take up so much concentration that you can't concentrate on the game itself. I've seen where people have said, when getting into wargames, that they played many different games before it "clicked" and they could concentrate on the game b/c wargame mechanics had become familiar to them.

I do remember when getting into "adult" wargames, specifically with mandatory attacks, I would plan my "real" attacks, the ones I wanted to make, and then get hosed on my "unwanted" mandatory attacks. I found it annoying at the time, but got used to it as I became more experienced. IMO,as a general rule the simpler games and ones with fewer units tend to have mandatory attacks as it forces you to make attacks at lower odds. The result being it introduces more chaos and uncertainty into a simple game that might otherwise be dull if you could only make "safe" attacks. That said, I can see how this rule would not be ideal for beginners.

As for odds, a lot of times I don't pre-calculate odds beforehand, I just attack by gut feeling. There are also quite a few games that have a fog of war element that make pre-calculating impossible. Also, I'm horrible at simple math, and often whip out a calculator. Yet even my math challenged self finds odds making much easier now than when I first started.

Hope you keep posting your thoughts on the games you try, as its interesting (and informative for recomding intro games) to see what hangups, likes and dislikes you have as you explore wargaming. If you need help with rules, recommendations, etc. just ask! Looks like you're already playing with plexi and clipped counters.thumbsup

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Mary Weisbeck
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There are two things to keep in mind when reading my impression of odds-based CRTs:
1) I'm a total virgin in this area so probably miss the bigger picture
2) I was playing by email and had all the time I needed to play around with different formations.

So from that perspective, I feel that the CRT does not promote tactics so much as offer a number puzzle to solved. Here's a line of your numbers, there's a line of my numbers. My job during my turn is to find a way to place them all adjacent in such a way, and in such combinations, that my numbers always beat your numbers in increments of your number.

Now I admit that I'm new to this and would not see when and where sacrifices are called for. "Pierre, I'm sending you and your men, who are ill-equipped and untrained, to keep those strong, scary guys busy while we fight over here. I know you're all going to die but think of how much you'll be helping your country, mon ami."

I often spent an hour playing with different movement combinations, and with 3-5 movement points, there can be considerable options. I also had to keep in mind what the consequences of losing or winning each battle would be, where is it essential to have the upper hand and where is it less important if I have to retreat. Also trying to balance numbers that face off so if the dreaded Ee comes up I do not end up being the one who is screwed.

Maybe you guys with your years of experience can not see what I'm seeing, and maybe with more experience I could see the deeper layers underneath the puzzle. But for now, I'd rather play around with a different style of game such as Tide of Iron or Combat Commander (which is what I've set up on my game table now). The mechanics of these games let me play by the seat of my pants, on instinct, rather than figuring odds.
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sodaklady wrote:
"Pierre, I'm sending you and your men, who are ill-equipped and untrained, to keep those strong, scary guys busy while we fight over here. I know you're all going to die but think of how much you'll be helping your country, mon ami."


It appears that you have already grasped the essentials of true generalship!
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Mary Weisbeck
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Thank you, Sphere.

Now go water the horses. devil
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Do the horses require 3 buckets of water to one of oats; a 3:1?

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Mary Weisbeck
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Yes, of course.

And do be aware of their anterior ZOCs. Retreat there at your peril.
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sodaklady wrote:

So from that perspective, I feel that the CRT does not promote tactics so much as offer a number puzzle to solved.


It should be viewed simply as a way to resolve combat. Meaning its a small part of the game, not the game itself. more below.

Quote:

I often spent an hour playing with different movement combinations,


I don't think anyone would have a good time playing this way. Ideally you'll spend 5-10 minutes resolving combat, including calculating odds. Most of a player's time should be on maneuvering units and deciding where to attack, that is where the fun is.

Quote:
I also had to keep in mind what the consequences of losing or winning each battle would be, where is it essential to have the upper hand and where is it less important if I have to retreat.


Older wargames, esp. from the '70s emphasized maneuver and positioning, which can be fun and challenging, but also takes some learning. Newer hex and counters are less so.


Quote:
Also trying to balance numbers that face off so if the dreaded Ee comes up I do not end up being the one who is screwed.


Again games from the 70's and '80s tended to have deadlier CRTs. Newer games' CRTs tend to be nicer.

Quote:
The mechanics of these games (TOI, CC) let me play by the seat of my pants, on instinct, rather than figuring odds.


From my admittedly distant Point of view, you seemed to approach this game more as a chess match rather than a casual wargame. I somewhat doubt you spend an hour playing a single card in CC? My suggestions in my previous post were to share how to play this game by instinct and to "shoot from the hip". You seemed to get hung up on "gaming the CRT" and over analyze it for the optimum combats. Its much better to commit to one general coarse of action with minimal "pre-calculating" and just go with it. These old '70s style games rewarded maneuver and positioning much more that combat results anyway.

I guess what I'm saying is that odds calculating and CRT studying should be a much smaller part of the game, time and focus wise.

Anyway glad you're having fun with wargames in general. Hex and counter games aren't for everyone. But I hope you'll eventually give a more modern Hex n couter game a try as you know some of the things you don't like, ie mandatory attacks. Different types play quite differently, and there are better games than Nap.at Waterloo.
 
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