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Subject: Why is it so difficult for people to learn this game? rss

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Chris Guzy
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I can't get people to play this game. They say it's too complicated. What's the deal? It is one of the simplest games out there. It is easy to set up, get started and get going. Also it's fast compared to most games. Sure some rules are misinterpreted at first but what game doesn't have that? Also you only need one other person instead of several like so many other wargames.

Is it me? Am I odd?wow Did IQ's drop sharply in the last 20 years? shake
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guzzoid wrote:
Did IQ's drop sharply in the last 20 years? shake


No. But peoplo became very lazy these days. Unemployement is becoming an habit and this is a reflection of it. "Little effort big money" or in this situation "Little IQ, big fun" is the motto. arrrh
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Isaiah Tanenbaum
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With respect, I think your perspective's a bit off. NT may be light compared to most wargames, but compared to games as a whole it's a bit intimidating. If your competition is Ticket to Ride, Settlers, or Carcassone you'll have a hard time convincing anyone that a two or three hour game is 'light.'
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William Crispin
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This is a challenging game to play well and the rules are not that short. It is not the heaviest of wargames but it is not the lightest either. I think your perspective is skewed.
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Chris Guzy
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Well, by simplest I meant you don't have charts, accounting procedures, different sub-units etc. I'm starting to think this game is intimidating because there are no dice. Without dice nothing can bail people out of a silly mistake. Could that be it?

I'm really excited about this game and I guess I am disappointed that the people I have introduced this to so far haven't jumped for joy at the game. (Like I did)
 
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Chris Guzy
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Do you think Marengo is a good way to ease them into this game or will it confuse them more due to the change in rules?
 
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guzzoid wrote:
Do you think Marengo is a good way to ease them into this game or will it confuse them more due to the change in rules?


If the goal is to learn NT, BaM won't speed the process. There is much for a BaM player to unlearn when they come to NT.

I think the biggest factor in people having trouble learning NT is that they can't fall back on experience with related systems as they do when learning most wargames. Each of Bowen's designs is sui generis, and a person learning any of them must read and re-read the rules carefully if they don't have someone to teach them.
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Ondřej Vašíček
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Maybe it is because NT is not real wargame. It provides different type of entertainment. NT is much like chess with Napoleonic scenery.

And the rules - they are far from intuitive. Even in complex wargame you know, that weak disordered unit would not win a melee against fullstrength good order unit or "demoralized units cannot attack and they defend with strength 0" etc. Here, you can smash French Old Guard with three one-step units if you settle a chess-like trap.

In real wargame, you can play intuitively like you are commanding real units. Here you must play the rules and you must remember all of them to detail.
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Bivoj wrote:
Maybe it is because NT is not real wargame. It provides different type of entertainment. NT is much like chess with Napoleonic scenery.


I disagree.

Bivoj wrote:
In real wargame, you can play intuitively like you are commanding real units. Here you must play the rules and you must remember all of them to detail.


You have to learn the rules of any wargame before you can play. Once you've assimilated the rules to NT, you can play it as intuitively as any other wargame.
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Andrew Glassop
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guzzoid wrote:
Well, by simplest I meant you don't have charts, accounting procedures, different sub-units etc. I'm starting to think this game is intimidating because there are no dice. Without dice nothing can bail people out of a silly mistake. Could that be it?


With the greatest respect (so you know what's coming now) I couldn't disagree more.

Does the fact that a F1 car now has traction control and so on make it easy to drive? If I hit you with a stick should you be happy its not a whip? A lack of tables does not a simple game make.

As for games with dice, I can name dozens of games that don't have dice where stupid moves will end in failure (Railroad Tycoon being just one) without people getting upset. In fact, games with dice often end up being more tactical in terms of people calculating odds of a particular roll.

Personally, I'm still trying to figure out exactly how combat plays out in this game so please colour me stupid or lazy as you see fit!
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mario p.
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have to admit it's not that easy even to get myself on this game...
sure it can be intuitive as soon as you learn how to play, but there's a lot to learn even before you can just go around the table and make a casual attack! the rules are quite clear (or they become clear with the faq and the summaries) but they're many more than in classical boardgame (say "monopoly") in new classical boardgame (say "puerto rico") in pub cardgame (say citadel) or in simple wargame (say, for my level, CG "Liberty").
I don't know, but it seems people on the BGG doesn't have a realistic perspective of "normal people" who doesn't play a game once or twice a week: from this point of view I could observe people is simply (and reasonably) scared of the amount of rules and the fair complexity of the combat procedure. It's not big deal for a geek, ok, but it's a fairly tough deal for a recent geek like me and even a quite monstrous task for an occasional rainy sunday afternoon gamer who's not that hardheaded...!
that doesn't mean NT isn't the deeper and nicer simulation of war I met until now: and as soon as you get the basics, becomes better as you can afford some tactics. It's hard and takes time (and that's why I can understand people avoiding to play it) but it's defenetely worth.
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cicciburicci wrote:
I don't know, but it seems people on the BGG doesn't have a realistic perspective of "normal people" who doesn't play a game once or twice a week: from this point of view I could observe people is simply (and reasonably) scared of the amount of rules and the fair complexity of the combat procedure. It's not big deal for a geek, ok, but it's a fairly tough deal for a recent geek like me and even a quite monstrous task for an occasional rainy sunday afternoon gamer who's not that hardheaded...!


There are, I think, two standards for rules length: one for typical boardgames, and another for historical wargames. NT's 12 page booklet, with 8 or 9 pages of actual rules, is certainly long compared to typical Eurogames. but fairly short by wargame standards.

Even so, NT is difficult to learn, even for experienced wargamers. It has been 40 years since I played my first hex-and-counter wargame, and I began with games like the MB American Heritage games and Feudal and Risk years before that. I participated in the BaM ladder. I am better than average at learning rules by reading them, and often teach games to others.

Still, I had a difficult time learning NT. It is different in many ways from any other game I've played, and Bowen's style of writing rules is different than that found in most wargames. He writes unambiguously and literally, which sounds as if it would make his rules easy to learn, but experience indicates otherwise. On the plus side, his rules are extremely tight, and require little if anything in the way of errata.

I do firmly believe that his games are remarkable, and well worth the effort required to assimilate. But NT is not Nexus Ops or Small World, not by a long shot. You can't simply pick it up, scan the rules quickly, and play a satisfying game. If you're unwilling to commit to 2 or 3 learning sessions and some concerted rules study, NT isn't a good choice.
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Jim Cote
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I am in that position of having read the rules twice, played once, and still working at understanding the game. I've taught ASLSK1 to others. I think the difference is that in a "standard" hex and counter wargame (if such a thing exists), you can kinda decide what to do without knowing anything about the mechanics. You can picture the units moving, using terrain, and firing. For the most part, the mechanics simply limit your options and dictate how to obtain the results of an attack (do some math, roll dice, this unit breaks/dies). In NT, you can still look at the board and make some kind of plan. But the execution of combat is much more complex. I don't simply say A fires at B. Players have to make decisions (sometimes in an unintuitive order), choose subsets of the involved units to lead, etc. The results of combat also seem more opaque than a standard wargame in that there seem to be more kinds of results than simply "one or both sides suffer a loss". Units may or may not need to be revealed. Units may or may not be moved as a result of winning or losing. Units may suffer losses because of their location, the width of an approach, the type of attacking unit, etc. These seem much more abstract. This is not a criticism of the system; I plan to buy the game. It's just my experience trying to wrap my head around it.
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Chris Guzy
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I think people are misunderstanding my original point. Everyone is talking about mastery of the rules. I am talking about people having difficulty keeping track the difference between infantry and arty. Or what a locale is (even when I call it a square). Can we agree that THAT is bad? I can't even get to counter attacks before they give up.

However, a couple of 7th graders seemed to get most of it in one practice game. (They are gifted I think. I know one is.)
 
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Dejan Vranic
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NT is like chess. The ruls are not that hard to learn but it takes time to master the game since the possibilities are many.
Im lucky I have a brother that studies history and likes boardgames too.

NT is the best strategy boardgame I ever played after chess.

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Mark Buetow
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guzzoid wrote:
I can't get people to play this game.


That's because you live in Virginia. If you lived in Southern Illinois, we could play it whenever you want.
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ekted wrote:
I am in that position of having read the rules twice, played once, and still working at understanding the game. I've taught ASLSK1 to others.


There's a world of difference between sitting down with somebody to teach them, and trying to learn by reading the rulebook. And learning by reading the rulebook is an order of magnitude tougher if you don't have prior experience to fall back on.

I'd bet that the majority of people learning ASLSK1 have played other hex-and-counter wargames previously. That provides a certain comfort level. How much is tough for me to honestly say; I'd learned hundreds of hex-and-counter wargames before the original Squad Leader came out. It's hard to recapture whatever reaction it was that I had when I first sat down at a Stalingrad board in 1969.

But I truly believe that if we had a test group of people who had never learned any historical wargames previously, and if you taught half of them ASLSK1 while I taught the other half NT, I'd have my students up to speed at least as quickly as you would yours.
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My regular gaming body is an old school wargamer. He still finds it difficult, for whatever reason, to grasp NT. His son enjoys it, but he struggles with it.

But telling the difference between arty and infantry? That's not a sign of ignorance. That's a sign of not really wanting to play a wargame, I think. zombie

Edit: That should be "buddy" not "body." I'll leave it in because it sounds really funny. laugh
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Todd Pytel
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Sphere wrote:
But I truly believe that if we had a test group of people who had never learned any historical wargames previously, and if you taught half of them ASLSK1 while I taught the other half NT, I'd have my students up to speed at least as quickly as you would yours.

I'm not so sure. Jim's point is a very good one, I think - ASL, like most tactical games, is very intuitive in a lot of ways. "I hide in the building and shoot at your dudes." "I circle around behind your tank." And so forth. The details of what dice to roll and charts to check may be involved, especially for ASL/ASLSK, but it's very easy to a newcomer to describe what he wants to happen. As he continues to play, he can see how those simple plans can be improved upon. I've tried to play BaM with several new players, and that kind of understanding is totally lacking. The game, because of the scale, time period, and system, is one of maneuver - a new player's primitive thought to "attack your guys there with my guys here" isn't really getting them any closer to the heart of the game at all. It's only after you see the game in action, played by someone knowledgeable that you say "Oh... that's what I'm supposed to do."

Comparing BaM/NT to ASLSK is probably not fair anyway, as even the SK's are at the very high end of complexity in historical wargames. But if you were to conduct your thought experiment against a simpler tactical system (like Lock N Load or World at War, perhaps), I think I'd lay odds on the tactical system. I can at least say this for sure... my wife has played a couple ASLSK scenarios with me. Not her thing. At all. But she gets what the game is about. BaM, on the other hand, is the only game she gets angry with me for suggesting. We haven't played in years, but yet when I ask "Honey, do you want to play a game?", she still replies "As long as it's not Marengo." She found it that frustrating.
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Rachel Simmons
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tppytel wrote:

I'm not so sure. Jim's point is a very good one, I think - ASL, like most tactical games, is very intuitive in a lot of ways. "I hide in the building and shoot at your dudes." "I circle around behind your tank." And so forth. The details of what dice to roll and charts to check may be involved, especially for ASL/ASLSK, but it's very easy to a newcomer to describe what he wants to happen.


At that level, aren't all wargames (even NT) intuitive? "I defend the town"; "I circle my cavalry behind your infantry"? Between the reality the game represents and the game mechanics are the abstractions that are the game itself and it is in those abstractions that a game is easy (or hard) to learn.

tppytel wrote:
Comparing BaM/NT to ASLSK is probably not fair anyway, as even the SK's are at the very high end of complexity in historical wargames.


ASLK #1 has a complexity rating on BGG of 3.8 vs. NT's 3.4, so it could be argued on that basis that it isn't fair. On the other hand, Lock'n'Load: A Band of Heroes (Is that right one for a comparison like this? I have no idea.) has a complexity of 3.0, so if a 0.4 point difference makes a comparison unfair one way, it would seem that it would make it unfair the other way as well.

In any case, I'm not sure where a discussion like this is going. I've observed a lot of people try to learn NT, and I can tell you that some people pick it up pretty quickly, others more slowly, and some never really get the hang of it. People have different learning styles and some games fit some people's way of thinking better than others, regardless of statistical comparisons.

Motivation also matters a great deal. Low-level WWII combat, the subject of ASLK, is really not my thing. There is just no way I could ever learn ASLK because I could never care enough to learn it. Lots of people, however, just love it and can't get enough. (Ever since Panzerblitz, that scale and period has consistently vied for the title of the most popular wargame subject.)

Far be it from me to try to prevent anyone from saying that they found this game easy to learn or that game hard. But how easy or hard a particular game isn't just about the game, it is about the person learning the game.
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Ethan Tan
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I would add that I've found this game difficult to learn too. Having played many GMT games with rulebooks of >40 pages, I assumed that NT's 9 pages wouldn't be much of a problem, but it turned out that I was wrong. The main difference is that in many of those huge rulebooks, there are alot of things happening (diplomacy, naval, combat, card play, etc) which cause the rulebook to be long, but each rule is actually simple. However, in NT, there are less things happening (generally only movement and combat) which is why the rulebook is short, but the procedure is extremely detailed and technical. I guess this is why people find NT rules unintuitive.

I'm not saying whether this is good or bad thing. I'm still looking forward to finding people here in Singapore to struggle through a few plays with me!
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Jim Cote
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Sphere wrote:
There's a world of difference between sitting down with somebody to teach them, and trying to learn by reading the rulebook.

Sorry that my intention was unclear. I wasn't trying to compare those two things. I was just giving background for myself. Maybe I should have just said "I play ASLSK1". ASL's steps are complex (rally, prep fire, movement, assault fire, close combat, etc), but the notion of firing and resolving combat is intuitive in the general sense (farther away = harder to hit, more terrain = harder to hit, bigger weapons = easier to hit, etc). NT is much more unintuitive/opaque because it's not clear in general who is firing at who, who can/will take damage, and who will end up where. This is partly because it's not squad-level (unit vs unit), and partly because the complex systems of infantry/cavalry/artillery/terrain interactions have been abstracted. I'm sure once I get over the hump, I will appreciate it all even more.
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Todd Pytel
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bowen wrote:
At that level, aren't all wargames (even NT) intuitive? "I defend the town"; "I circle my cavalry behind your infantry"? Between the reality the game represents and the game mechanics are the abstractions that are the game itself and it is in those abstractions that a game is easy (or hard) to learn.

That's a good way to put it. My point (and Jim's, I think) is that seeing those connections between the mechanics and the reality may be harder in BaM/NT than it is in a typical WWII tactical title. To some extent, I think that's because most of us don't have even an action-movie level of knowledge about Napoleonic warfare at the scale of BaM/NT. But the mechanics may play a role as well. In any event, I don't see this as reflecting poorly upon your games. Games that attempt to directly model every aspect of their subject may gain something in intuitiveness, but lose a great deal in focus and speed of play. They're also not as interesting from a design perspective - it's always easier to throw stuff in than take stuff out.

I'd cite Fire in the Sky: The Great Pacific War 1941-1945 as another game I find somewhat similar to BaM in this regard. As strategic Pacific War games go, its rules are very simple. But a new player sitting down to it without knowledgeable assistance usually has a hard time seeing just where the game is without a lot of experience. I certainly do, at least, and haven't had the opportunity to play it enough to get past that yet.

Quote:
ASLK #1 has a complexity rating on BGG of...

I don't see BGG complexity ratings as useful indicators of anything. They're far too infrequently used and far too dependent on the background of the respondent.

Quote:
In any case, I'm not sure where a discussion like this is going.

I'm a teacher. Thinking about how different people learn and why they struggle with certain things is what I do. While Napoleonic wargaming is not freshman Algebra, it's still interesting to me in a sort-of-professional capacity.

Quote:
People have different learning styles and some games fit some people's way of thinking better than others, regardless of statistical comparisons.

Motivation also matters a great deal.

But how easy or hard a particular game isn't just about the game, it is about the person learning the game.

Absolutely.
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ekted wrote:
NT is much more unintuitive/opaque because it's not clear in general who is firing at who, who can/will take damage, and who will end up where.


That's not true at all for me. Perhaps because I've played a lot of Napoleonic games at this scale?

I can't imagine finding it harder to tell who is firing at who in NT than in ASL, where you must deal with ranged combat, line of sight, indirect fire, etc. I guess you and I must be approaching these games from entirely different directions.

Bowen's point about motivation is probably the key. I'm not nearly as interested in tactical combat as I am in higher levels of command, and regardless of scale I'm far more interested in pre-20th century combat than in WWII.
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Jim Cote
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Sphere wrote:
I can't imagine finding it harder to tell who is firing at who in NT than in ASL, where you must deal with ranged combat, line of sight, indirect fire, etc. I guess you and I must be approaching these games from entirely different directions.

Well, in ASL I can fire a specific unit/group at a specific hex. I roll for result, and each unit in the target hex must apply the result (which might require making an additional roll). I can basically do any silly thing I want.

In NT I attack your group with my group. Which of my units fire at which of your units? They don't all necessarily get used (unintuitive to me). We have to choose leading unit(s) (unintuitive to me). Retreating units take damage based on where they are in the locale and the width of the approach (unintuitive to me). If I attack by road, it's not really an attack (unintuitive to me). I can't choose mixed units to lead (unintuitive to me). These are not complaints, merely the hurdles to my understanding of the system. There is nothing in my notion of how combat works that helps me internalize the above rules.
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