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Subject: First 2010 Playtest rss

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Mark Luta
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We tried the new combat system last night, and it seemed to work very
well. Activiating a HQ step, which cost oil or steel to build, to
allow movement and attacks by all units which start and remain
adjacent goes a lot quicker than counting out ops points for attacks,
and seems to me to well simulate the logistics involved in a major
offensive. All units not activated by HQ can only hit on 6s, do not
get modifiers (this is also the case in winter, making HQ not so
valuable in winter and encouraging players to use this time to
rebuild, though an attrition attack could be useful if the enemy units
are considerably reduced--the downside being the defenders will be
getting hits on 5-6 normally).

A HQ 'oil' step would also be required to launch an airstrike...I
presume a similar oil step reduction would also allow employment of
paratroop and amphibious units which would end up not adjacent to an
HQ unit by the nature of their use.


It also seems the Soviet player has a bit more to do, right off, with
the need to build up their forces, efficiently take over their section
of Poland and the Baltic States, Bessarabia, conduct a little war up
in Finland to give themselves a buffer for Leningrad--though they
could also conduct an offensive into Romania, or even Turkey. A
Romania incursion would possibly create a bit of a conundrum for the
Western Allies, who have a chance to try and align with Romania and
keep Germany from easily getting this key ally--but that would put
Britain at war with the USSR, so Germany might well let it happen!
More likely, Germany would end up getting the alliance with Romania
and then occupy the oil region, even if they do not have time to get
to the capitol, which allows the USSR to only continue their attacks
on Romania by declaring war on Germany, which they would need the
Icebreaker card to violate Molotov-Ribbentrop before Germany does...


We also found out that Britain is ill-advised to overspend on the
diplomatic track, as Germany has enough ops points to stay competitive
if not even with such an effort, and then France will not be at all
well defended. So this works well--the only thought I have there is
there might be a few too many nations on the diplomatic track which I
think may add to an overwhelming feeling for those not versed in the
history of the war. In particular, I wonder if the Middle Eastern
nations and Egypt really need to be on there, as these would normally
only be 'in play' through card-driven events, so perhaps the card
events alone could suffice (e.g., the Mosul coup succeeds when played
by Germany, unless Britain sends forces to garrison Iraq this turn or
next--playing the coup at the right time would make it difficult or
impossible to comply with, while if the British choose to garrison
Iraq with a block, then the card can do its job simply by not being
played and tying down those forces indefinitely).


The air warfare has been shifted to a deterministic system, where air
units of 'equal quality' exchange a step loss and drive off ground
support, it also takes HQ activation for the attacker to commit air
which accounts for the oil expenditure. The tech system will probably
also have a significant impact on the air battles as the war goes on,
but there is still also a viable strategy of producing a large but low-
quality air force which the player knows is going to be quickly
eliminated, but it can still stop the attacker from easily gaining air
superiourity, or alternatively a couple low-quality air units held
back until the attacker uses all their air support and then used in a
counter attack.


The tech system tracks were not yet ready, but we just played the
appropriate tech development cards for each nation as little effect
would have been seen through the fall of France which turned out to be
the end of our game. The new Vichy rule also gives the German player
some incentive to attack (ahistorically) southern France to gain the
capital production there, rather than let it go to Vichy. But this
may be a golden fleece, since it would require extra units and extra
ops, or else bringing Italy into the war prior to the fall of France.


Overall, from the wargamer perspective, the game seems to be working
reasonably smoothly from the 1939 start, it seemed the Battle of
Britian and U-Boat war would have been possible to prosecute next.
The two big questions therefore are the tech development, which
certainly can be tweaked easily, and second whether the yearlong
buildup to Barbarossa can realistically produce a suitable German
invasion force.
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Adam Ruzzo
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Great report! I'm actually glad to hear that they've added some incentive to do things ahistoricly. I'm slowly getting tired with the games that add so much historical chrome that the only real strategy is the one that took place in reality!
 
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Commander Harris
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I'm curious how the map is laid out and how many provinces there are. Is the number right to allow some strategic maneuvering and not have it turn out in a slogging match between stacks, yet small enough for (relatively) short playing time?

I've asked this before in another threat, but to me this is the final thing that prevents this to be a certain buy for me. I think I liked the old combat system more, but if the amount of provinces is right this could be a very elegant solution to cut down on playing time and rules.
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Michael Tan
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Thanks for the session report Mark. I'm very pleased with the new HQ system as it dramatically simplifies movement and exploitation process while simulataneously increasing emphasis on logistics. A rare instance of getting more done with less!

Your analysis of Romania brings up a possible loophole that I have to further analyze during playtesting: Is it possible for two sides to collude against the third through the manipulation of the diplomacy system? For instance, one side forms an alliance (the Allies) with a neutral (Romania), then the other conspiring side (the Soviets) attacks that neutral, not with any intent to conquer, but to push the diplomatic status from alliance to alignment (full Allied control) and deny the third side (the Axis) any diplomatic benefits. In the end this may prove to be no different than just "ganging" up against one side which is perfectly legal, but if it feels too "gamey", then I might need to do something about it.

As for the number of nations on the diplomatic chart, I agree that it seems like alot, but it's part of keeping the game unscripted and allowing players to think outside of the box. For instance, in the actual war, the diplomacy in the Middle East was a two sided affair with the British being the colonial power and the Axis attempting to usurp that power structure. In that context, event cards alone would suffice. However, it's entirely possible that in an alternate history, the Soviets may enter the fray. Revolutionaries like Nasser and Sadat were not pro-Axis, but rather pro-Egypt or anti-British. They established relations with the Germans and Italians because they could help them kick out the British. Thus, if the Soviets somehow became the greater threat to British Imperialism, I could see the diplomatic track becoming very menaningful in the Middle East. Now, most games this will not happen, but what if Germany decides not to attack Russia and the Soviets play the Comintern event to get on the influence track in the Middle East?
 
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Barry Lew
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Tan,

This is Barry.

EE Mike and I are avaiable for some playtesting.

Let me know when you are free.


Barry


PS... Hello Mark, Anthony, and any others lurking out there.
 
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Michael
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Great session report. Could you please say something about the playing time?

Thanks,
Michael
 
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Michael Tan
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I believe they completed 3 turns in about 3.5 hours. Two of the three players were playing for the first time and there was extensive discussion of rules, theory, and historical context. I was pleased with the pace as I believe experienced players just focusing on the game only could have completed 3 turns in about 90 minutes.
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Robb Minneman
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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m3tan wrote:
I believe they completed 3 turns in about 3.5 hours. Two of the three players were playing for the first time and there was extensive discussion of rules, theory, and historical context. I was pleased with the pace as I believe experienced players just focusing on the game only could have completed 3 turns in about 90 minutes.


Which still makes a twenty turn game (five years at four turns per year, taking you into late '44) a 10 hour affair. Yes? Or are these action-heavy turns?

Not that I'm opposed to that pace of play. I'd love it. But you've recently said, Mike, that part of your goal is to reduce play time to make the game more attractive to a more general audience.
 
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Karl Kreder
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Quote:
PS... Hello Mark, Anthony, and any others lurking out there.


I AM NOT LURKING... Oh ummm sorry blush
 
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Seth Gunar
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Thanks for whetting my appetite for this game even more. When is it expected to be published?

As for game length, any game that can fit the ETO during WWII into one day of gaming is doing alright. I pretty much have a "one sitting" rule now. Unless an opponent is willing to leave a game set up on a table somewhere to be resumed later, I won't even start it without the probability of finishing in one day.

(I can't even consider leaving a game on a table at home. I have two cats that love to bat little things around.)
 
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Jason Roach
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Not sure how I feel about the "deterministic" air combat given the number of other game mechanics it can/will impact.

Any feedback on how this changed things, (aside from cutting a bit of time off the clock)?

 
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Mark Luta
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Although we used just some airplane units, the idea for production is to use air support cards, with the actual air type (fighter or bomber) hidden until use, maybe even whether it is ground support capable or not. This will be a particular headache for the Soviet player early who does not have the capability to use fighters for ground support. So there will be a bit of a guessing game, and air units will be assigned to a front rather than attached to ground units, which seems more accurate for 3 month turns. Another thought is to make air support more costly the farther the front gets from the home areas. This would both replicate the situation on the vast Russian steppes, where the Luftwaffe was simply too small to cover the entire front, and also in North Africa prevent unrealistically massive air forces from being deployed there. And it would tend to shift the higher costs from Germany in a Battle of Britain situation, to higher for the Western Allies to get air forces over France. I think there are also going to be events which to be played have to bomb the enemy nation at this elevated cost, early war for Britain and late war for Germany.

The problem with rolling dice for air combat, besides the time required, is it just does not seem to accurately replicate historical rates of air attrition. With this system, as mentioned above players can choose what resources to spend on the air forces, and then whether to attrit away the enemy air forces, or hold air back for a counter attack or later defense. I suppose in this context, an 'air unit' would more represent a number of sorties flown, whether by the same aircraft or by replacements, rather than a physical unit formation.

Effectively the randomness of dice will therefore be shifted to the uncertainty of what choices each player will make, plus do not forget the card events which cause a great deal of randomness. Importantly, this system will allow players to play historically and replicate those outcomes--hold back the French Air Force (as historically) or send it to fight, and then the same in the Soviet Union, where the entire immense but lower quality Red Air Force can be used to slow the German offensive from the start at the price of being eliminated (as historically), or held back to measure out over time to key places.
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Robb Minneman
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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markluta wrote:
The problem with rolling dice for air combat, besides the time required, is it just does not seem to accurately replicate historical rates of air attrition. With this system, as mentioned above players can choose what resources to spend on the air forces, and then whether to attrit away the enemy air forces, or hold air back for a counter attack or later defense. I suppose in this context, an 'air unit' would more represent a number of sorties flown, whether by the same aircraft or by replacements, rather than a physical unit formation.

Effectively the randomness of dice will therefore be shifted to the uncertainty of what choices each player will make, plus do not forget the card events which cause a great deal of randomness. Importantly, this system will allow players to play historically and replicate those outcomes--hold back the French Air Force (as historically) or send it to fight, and then the same in the Soviet Union, where the entire immense but lower quality Red Air Force can be used to slow the German offensive from the start at the price of being eliminated (as historically), or held back to measure out over time to key places.


That's a variance problem and there's (at least) two ways to affect variance in historical wargaming. (1) Hidden information, and (2) dice/cards/some other randomizer.

What you're saying is that the amount of hidden information is enough to satisfy the vagaries of air combat, without being too predictable. That's terrific. I think there's too much reliance on dice in wargames, and the uncertainty that they introduce can be handled via other methods.

The thing that makes this kind of design choice work is whether there's enough hidden information to keep players guessing.
 
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Michael Tan
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Jason Roach wrote:
Not sure how I feel about the "deterministic" air combat given the number of other game mechanics it can/will impact.

Any feedback on how this changed things, (aside from cutting a bit of time off the clock)?



I'm contemplating switching to a deterministic system not so much to save time (although that is an added benefit) but because I believe it is a more realistic depiction of the air war. More so than with land or naval conflict, the air war in WWII was extremely attritional in nature. The Battle of Britain was all about if the UK could sustain replacements at a rate greater than they were shot down. Unlike surface fleets chasing each other in the Atlantic or Pacific, there are no wild swings of fortune based on reconnaisance or timing of attacks. In both the Western and Eastern Front, it was about grinding down the opponent over time until you had air supremacy. It just wasn't sitting right when a lucky dice roll or two entirely changed the air parity in earlier playtests. At least you can rationalize crazy dice rolls on naval or land combat because of a lucky hit on a capital ship or an army surrendering when encircled.
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Michael Tan
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I'd also add that I'd like very much to have one uniform dice mechanic for all forms of combat. The naval combat works with the same block combat / A&A mechanic that I used for land combat. The air combat system had too much variance unless I altered the mechanic dramatically which from a design elegance standpoint wasn't sitting right with me. The tech system and diplomacy system are diceless and deterministic yet with the variance in the cards, they are very unpredictable. I realized that the air war worked better using that same mechanic. Hence the two resolution mechanics in the game are the diceless / points and cards system for tech, diplomacy, and air war AND the buckets of dice system for land and naval combat.
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Marcin Woźniak
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I find this explanation very precise and clear. There is one thing I'd be afraid of - that the general outcome of Air war can be foreseen few years ahead, given all resources to build air are known to both sides.
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Jason Roach
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Mark, Michael,

Thanks for your detailed responses.

I do share Marcin’s concern, as I think there will be a limit to how much automatic variance (where the units are, what type), that can be included. I agree that at times, the air-war/units were very much in an attritional state, however, that’s often when you had parity in arms and lack-of true operational initiative. In quality of air-crew, training and equipment, Britain and Germany were relatively close, despite the German numerical advantage early-on during the attack on the Island and it was Germany’s lack of long-range bombers/fighter escorts, and Britain’s proximity to its own airspace that seemed to play-out; that and of course the decision to hit non-military targets, giving the British a chance to catch-up.

However, that was not really the case in Barbarossa; I’m not an expert on WWII, but I’ve always understood that the Germans caught much of the Russian Air (most of which was "forward deployed" to the West) on the ground during the first few days, eliminating a lot of the advantage afforded by their large numbers. Of course, there was a quality disparity as well so what dog-fights did occur, they were usually very one-sided and because they had lost so much early-on, they did not have the numbers to make-up for quality difference. How would one account for that in a deterministic combat situation, without adding something to the rules?

If you look at Japan’s attacks in the East against the U.S. and British, there is also a parity in numbers at times, but again, Japan’s forces were not only better equipped and trained, but they also caught a number of planes on the ground in and around Singapore, the Philippines, Hong Kong and even the Dutch East Indies.

As a result, my question is that although I agree with your thesis regarding not having entire air campaigns decided on a single role, it may not be worth throwing-out a CRT or some other variance system. And we are talking about three month turns. Finally, although I appreciate innovation, I’d hope that what doesn’t push the decision over the top is the fact that many other wargames use dice in some way as part of a combat mechanic.

As to the support of large air units, I would think that supply/resource system could account for it and I’m interested in seeing how that plays-out. That said, I’d hate to see additional rules piled-on just to deal with the issue of not having far-flung large air units deployed far away. My hope would be that the system itself would account for this.
 
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Marcin Woźniak
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I guess to prevent the 'foresee' aspect of air war the possibility to 'catch' air units (which, being large, consist of thousands of land personnel, thousands of tonnes of logistics, airfield equipment and so on) on the ground by - succesfull paradrop or amphibious assault on the bases, succesfull blitz on the province where air army is stationed. Of course it should be possible to draw it back, but for extra resources, maybe some lossess, maybe some sacrifice from other units in that province. Just my 00.2$
 
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Jason Roach
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Marcin, that’s an interesting thought, but I should have been a bit more clear. What I was actually referring to when I stated that they "caught-them-on-the-ground" was the fact that Germany’s and Japan’s Air-Arms, actually caught the opposing Air-Arms on the ground, and were able to knock-out a very large part of the opposing force as a result.
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Michael Tan
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Air forces destroyed on the ground are handled by surprise attack rules that apply to both land and air units.

Players can purchase two types of air superiority cards / units: Air Power is good for attack and defense and are purchased with oil. Air Defense is much better for defense and are purchased with steel. Each unit has a strength rating such as Air Power 4 or Air Defense 3 which isn't revealed until combat resolution. The types of cards that can be purchased are limited by technology and force pool restrictions. There should be a fair amount of uncertainty when forces first engage but if an air campaign spans for multiple turns it will become quite predictable which I don't have an issue with.
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Robb Minneman
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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m3tan wrote:
There should be a fair amount of uncertainty when forces first engage but if an air campaign spans for multiple turns it will become quite predictable which I don't have an issue with.


Good. That's quite historical. A great deal of attention was paid by intel services to enemy air order of battle, so a player should have a good idea of what the enemy's air force will look like after a few months' engagement.

I like the card system for air. That makes a great deal of sense, as described. How easy is it to shift air from theater-to-theater?
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