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Subject: Player aid or player crutch? rss

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Pete Belli
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A devoted Geek enjoying a typical hex-and-counter wargame possesses a level of information that would be the envy of even the most technologically advanced 21st century commander.

With a complete view of the battlefield, detailed intelligence about the opposing forces, and precise knowledge of the enemy’s objectives the armchair strategist has a firm grip on almost every facet of the game.

One common element found in many wargames is the integrated turn record/reinforcement chart. Usually available for viewing by both players, this graphic presentation of the formations which will appear during the game offers a cornucopia of military intelligence that real generals could only dream about. The specific entry location of each unit is carefully recorded along with a timetable giving accurate arrival sequences which could send a persnickety train conductor into spasms of ecstasy.

As a sort of whimsical illustration and point of reference I have created a reinforcement track to accompany this article:



The most casual military history buff knows that reinforcements are often delayed, arrive on the wrong road, or move sluggishly as the units approach the firing line. A commander will often have only a hazy understanding of the location of his own reinforcements; his knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions are frequently flawed or based on wild speculation.

I recently played a vintage hex-and-counter wargame with a reinforcement schedule that could only be described as complicated. Both players received numerous formations throughout the game and these new units arrived (literally) from all points of the compass. Before starting the game (which shall remain nameless because I don’t want anybody’s feelings to be hurt) I printed out a carefully crafted reinforcement chart file from BGG which provided every detail needed to smoothly introduce these fresh formations into the conflict simulation.

A decision was made to ditch the printed chart. It was a fabulous idea.

Reinforcements were gathered from the counter tray at the start of the phasing player’s turn. Both sides knew when new units would appear because this information was printed on the Game Turn Track. However, neither army had specific knowledge of what formations would appear or where they would enter the game… although it was certainly possible for a sneaky player to peek ahead in the rule booklet and get a quick glimpse of some upcoming arrivals.

I had played this game a long time ago but the appearance of the reinforcements for both sides felt spontaneous and created real tension. If the published rules had provided for variable or delayed reinforcements the experience would have been heightened even more. It was highly satisfying and added something extra to the game.

Tossing the printed player aid did slow down the pace because the process of digging out the counters took extra time. Of course, a clever Geek who has previously enjoyed the title will have a slight advantage over a player new to the game. The experienced contestant might remember some details of the order of appearance but only a prodigy with a mind like the Rainman will have a complete picture.

I recommend the experiment.
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Pokey 64
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Historical wargames require that certain units be brought onto the battlefield at the historical time. However, if the wargame is ahistorical or you are willing to throw history to the wind then I say, "Sure, why not!". You could even maintain the player aid chart and preload it with units that are face down (unless you are using double sided counters then you'd need to draw from a cup) and you could even draw random for the setup units also.

Wargames that had a wide variety of units (contemporary military formations) would be even more fun to watch unfold.

I like your idea.
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You could just bung the reinforcements into a cup and do a chit-pull every turn.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Have you seen this, Pete? You're going to be very interested in how the reinforcements work when this baby arrives, I have no doubt.
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Wendell Martin, Jr.
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pete belli wrote:

One common element found in many wargames is the integrated turn record/reinforcement chart. Usually available for viewing by both players, this graphic presentation of the formations which will appear during the game offers a cornucopia of military intelligence that real generals could only dream about. The specific entry location of each unit is carefully recorded along with a timetable giving accurate arrival sequences which could send a persnickety train conductor into spasms of ecstasy.

wow Yes, yes, oh god yes! modest
Ahem, I mean... I agree that that is one of the more interesting/useful things about wargames, as Pokey 64 suggests. Sometimes when reading books on a campaign, you'll find "Later, the Soviets brought in a large force north of Podunkgrad" - gee, thanks... But when a game lays out the turns, units, and hexes - ahh, that satisfies the itch for details!

As you mention, that precision isn't so good for recreating the chaos of a battlefield. So I'm with you in how adding some uncertainty when playing a game (as opposed to when "reading" it) makes sense.

Quote:
If the published rules had provided for variable or delayed reinforcements the experience would have been heightened even more.

Here's how Russian Front handles such matters with optional rules:


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Jon
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Sphere wrote:
Have you seen this, Pete? You're going to be very interested in how the reinforcements work when this baby arrives, I have no doubt.


Rarely have I anticipated a game release like I have been for The Guns of Gettysburg. I enjoyed his two previous efforts so much and the new game's diary notes provide a fantastic insight in design. Whenever it arrives, I will be right there on day 1, cash at the ready.

I believe I am in agreement with you Pete. I enjoy the historical time table in so far as getting a sense of the event being portrayed and the impact Corps A had on the battle. On the other hand, the gamer in me really likes to have unknown elements sprinkled throughout. That is one reason why I am enjoying my CDG journey these days.

As such, in years past I tended to first play games using historical reinforcement schedules, but often time would switch over to the "optional" random reinforcement schedule should one be provided.
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Steve Arthur
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For a minute there I thought Pete was talking about Torgau until I realised he had said BOTH sides...this old GDW classic simulates Frederick's over engineered plan to confound the Austrians by having the separate columns of his army arrive simultaneously on the battlefield from several different directions...in reality the plan which was too cute by half came unstuck as it usually does for the Prussian player in the game (which is pretty good by the way)...what happens in the game is the Prussian player divides his army up into a number of separate columns then designates an entry point and a time of arrival a die is then rolled to determine if each column arrives early,late or on time or even if it arrives at the desired entry point or one to either side...very nerve racking for the Prussian player I can tell you...the Austrians start in defensive positions in the middle of the map...
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Alan Sutton
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Atraxrobustus wrote:
...very nerve racking for the Prussian player I can tell you...


I quite agree as I was the Prussian the last time you played this. I remember having the horrible feeling I would eventually run out of troops as early as turn 2 or 3.
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Dr ?
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A recent discussion about a favorite "lite" game of mine has led me to thinking the whole "realism" in war games through. The point you make is totally in line with my recent thought process.

I know it has been said before, but incomplete knowledge makes for a better "simulation" which many grogs seem to covet. Additionally, unpredictability in outcome (minus factors under your control) is vastly underrepresented in most tradtional consims. Finally the level of analysis that we are talking about is always overlooked.

I sort of chuckle when folks rag on "lite" games for their lack of realism, when in fact, many random factors may be BETTER represented by some "lite" games with wild dice. For example, if Napoleon absolutely knew what was behind the ridge, would he have pushed forward? During our American Civil War, how many times did a group march into a conflict at an unannounced and hard to predict time?

I like your idea and I like the idea of less predictability in some of these "historical" scenarios. Once they become very predictable, the decisions that the real commanders had to make are gone and "realism" isn't so real!
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Adam Ruzzo
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This is why I really enjoy the hidden objectives and Fog of War style events in Combat Commander: Europe
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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I agree entirely with your approach, Pete. The paradox in strictly historical reinforcement schedules is that while they usually get the actual arrival times right, they fail to reproduce the situation experienced by the commanders, who often had very little info about when (or if) they would get more units.

I think a book should get the times of arrival correct, but a game should endeavor to re-create the uncertainty faced by the commander. Ideally, historical arrivals should be possible, but by no means assured.

I think supply markers in Rommel in the Desert serve as a marvelous example of how this works when done well. Games do tend to reflect relative supply levels of the combatants, but the tension induced by not knowing how much or how soon adds a level of tension that dramatically improves the experience.
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Michael Novak
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panzer6 wrote:
Historical wargames require that certain units be brought onto the battlefield at the historical time.


Historical war "games" seek to recreate the environment within which the events occurred. Uncertainty should be one of the main factors modeled. If a mechanism is developed to create this uncertainty at the expense of the original time/location of reinforcements, it is not "a-historical", but in fact admirably fastidious to the re-creation.

GoG - I thought I read on Mr. Simmons' blog that play testers were calling for a more "historical" timeline for reinforcements. If this is true, I hope he resists and finds a reasonable balance for his stated objectives. How boring would it be if EVERY game came down to Pickett charging up Cemetary Ridge on the afternoon of the 3rd day.... again.

PS: I don't expect this game to be boring!
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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big_m0dem wrote:
GoG - I thought I read on Mr. Simmons' blog that play testers were calling for a more "historical" timeline for reinforcements. If this is true, I hope he resists and finds a reasonable balance for his stated objectives.

He worked with multiple testers in multiple groups, and all don't think alike. Having worked with Bowen as a tester for two games, I can assure you that he is very much in charge, and follows his own muse. He listens attentively, but no amount of urging will take him in a direction he doesn't want to go.
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Carl Paradis
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A lot of games have non-fixed reinforcements. If you look at the classical GMT "Paths of Glory" for example, they enter by random card draw and player decision: its a pretty nice system.

In an upcoming game of mine, some card events will advance or delay the time of entry of the reinforcements, bringing an element of unknown in the game. Depending on the time/scale of the simulation, in some random reinforcements will work better. Usually the lower the scale and time frame, the more random you can go IMHO. Totally random reinforcements does not seem to fit well with, say, a game about the whole WWII on Europe.

In some games the "fixed" times of arrival also represent the fully controlled release of Historical reserves. In this case a totally random system is not very realistic either, some "release of the reserve" rules are a better fit.
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Andy Beaton
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Something I have seen in more than a few ASL scenarios is a randomizing factor (dice or chits) that tells you when your reinforcements arrive. This is balanced by changing the victory conditions according to the time of arrival, since there's nothing worse than late reinforcements in a tightly balanced game.
Giving players a fixed OB plus a choice of extra units the opponent won't know about until he sees them on the board also makes for a foggier and more exciting game.
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Lucius Cornelius
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Shouldn't there be a more "active" reinforcement,
instead of passively receiving them, either on schedule or randomly?
Shouldn't the player or the generals have more choice on when and how much of what type out of the available pool of possible reinforcement?
Wouldn't that be more realistic?
Of course, with the possibility of them not arriving as ordered.

It does sound much like ordering a pizza.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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sullafelix wrote:
Shouldn't the player or the generals have more choice on when and how much of what type out of the available pool of possible reinforcement?
Wouldn't that be more realistic?

Not necessarily; it depends on levels of command. Most Arnhem games don't cast you in the role of Eisenhower (or Montgomery for that matter). You're playing an amalgam of several roles, but theater commander isn't one of them. You're more like the commander of the British Paras fighting for the bridge. You'd very much like to see that armored column roll in from the south, but you don't know when it will happen, if at all.
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Dan Wilkinson
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I reckon you either like surprises or you don't. Commanders of both types existed in history and so to do wargamers of both types.

And then there is the need to differentiate between a surprise which is the result of your own cack handed generalship and those which are genuinely beyond ones control.

Re-inforcements fall between the two, which makes them a tricky one to handle properly. Take the pre-game back far enough in time and they become a generalship issue. If one ignores the pre-game drama then reinforcements are a random surprise and therefore don't add much.

More fun would be to bid some resources at the beginning on re-inforcements and then spend the rest fo the game wondering whether and when they would pay off. IMO that would also be a better simulatin since they way you play if you know the odds are in your favour is different to the way you play when you know the odds are random.
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Gary Christiansen
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This is a give or take idea.

If you really are trying to reproduce reality into the historical game you're playing it's a simple point to want fog of war and to have it more foggy than clear. Right? Maybe, it's a matter of taste for the players. There is also the issue of why change a game that works as a game too.

I've noticed a huge stress lately on reality in gaming military history and wargames. This is not a bad thing overall since one of the key elements a lot of people are in this for is the history. Why does it matter though whether you have more or less fog of war? What you're really looking at here is does the game represent a key element you think the game should have, a good fog of war where possible.

For any game it's all about the suspension of disbelief, the feel of the game working right for the game's events; are you indeed replicating the battle sufficiently to satisfy your sense of theme? If you are playing against the game's system, suspension of disbelief fails. And if you have to change the game to satisfy your needs more than a little bit, maybe it's already blown (no, random reinforcements does not qualify as a large change, but the point remains).

If you're looking for a perfect gaming solution to a historic events or even perfect fog of war, I don't think you'll find it on a single tabletop. There's always some good games and bad games. How close you need to come in the game system to reality is a very subjective position to take. A great game may in fact capture the feel without being historically accurate at all. A bad game may be perfect historically and unplayable.

Replacement or reinforcement variance systems in a game to create fog of war is fine. It's not even much of a change to many games though it really can change game balance in some cases. Try it, not try it, doesn't matter unless you and your opponent are going to come to blows over the rules (in which case why are you playing together?). It's a "your mileage may vary" activity.

It is interesting this discussion comes up so much though.

The hobby is filled with "tinkerers". These are people who find changing the game slightly for their own take on what is wrong with the system or reality. Even the publishers tinker though. So what?

My conclusion on the initial question posed in the topic here is the turn chart is not a crutch. The game may include it for design purposes or not if they couldn't afford another sheet of paper. It is indeed a player aid. It may also not be necessary if there's no impact by not having it. There's nothing on either side to object to though. It relies on the players' taste.

So you like to Tinker? Tinker. Don't Tinker. It's entertainment either way. Ask instead, Am I getting my Money's worth out of this game?
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