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Subject: Getting onto your board game map...... rss

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Chris James
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What do I mean by that title? I have been a board gamer since the late 70’s. My preference has been for SPI games although I have always has a few Avlon Hill favourites, ‘Squad Leader’ for one. When I game I really like to try and ‘get onto the mapboard’. Invariably I have read a book or seen a documentary about a battle or campaign I am refighting. This gives me ‘visuals’ of the men, vehicles and geography. Don’t get me wrong I am not one of these people that play’s Wellingtons Victory with the sound of cannon going off in the background. My neighbours would become seriously concerned!!
What I am saying is split into two parts:
How do you make sure you treat your cardboard armies as ‘people’ and they mean something and are not just numbers?
And what do you do or need to have in rules or graphics that allow you to make the game more than an exercise in numbers and ratio’s?
I have just read an article talking about scenario 2 in WED where Easy company need I give any more of the unit designation, are defending against the attack of the 107th Panzer Brigade. If you have seen ‘Band of Brothers’ you will have many pictures to undertake what I am asking. However what if you are playing War in the East? How do you put yourself ‘on the map’? The easy answer, perhaps, would be you are not because it is strategic so you will be in Moscow in a bunker or the Wolfsshanze in East Prussia. Is it therefore easier to get onto the map in tactical rather than strategic games?
The question remains. How do you get your head into a position where you don’t see these piles of cardboard with numbers on them as just that? Do we really understand what our cardboard armies are actually going through?

This is just a little think piece to prompt some discussion.

Therefore, how do you get onto the board game map?
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I find it relatively easy to get into most tactical scale games. I was a roleplaying gamer for 26 years - you put a personal name on a counter & I'll roleplay it

Even if it's a Ferdinand... cool
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Most of my gaming is done solo and there are times when I pause in a game just to imagine what is happening down there on the map. It isn't a conscious thing, I just find myself drifting off and immersing myself in the unwritten details of the game. I can visualise what is happening but I think this is a relative new experience for me, I cannot remember doing this 20 or 30 years ago.

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For Squad Leader (with all those AFVs draw from top view), I looked up what each AFV looked like. In fact, I made a webpage for it.

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crj1944 wrote:
This is just a little think piece to prompt some discussion.

Therefore, how do you get onto the board game map?

For me, it seems automatic, up to a point. A wargame is simulating something, and the mapboard is the "stage"--the field of action. So I buy into the idea that everything that happens on the board represents some real-war event. And the unit-counters represent real-war soldiers and vehicles and weapons and such.

The more a game zooms in toward an ultra-tactical, man-to-man level, the more detailed it usually is. A wargame on that level typically offers much more detail than I'd likely imagine myself (if I were just thinking or reading about a battle). So, I start with what's presented and find myself awestruck, more often than not.

In operational or strategic wargames, I don't usually picture much detail, nor is much presented. My imagination then is tied more to the grand, epic movements--the distances involved and all men and materiel being shifted about. I have the power to command whole armies to move--to invade another continent, capture cities, block mountain passes, and so forth. Maybe I can defend or conquer an entire world, or at least a big portion of one.
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It sounds as if what you're talking about is what I call "immersion" -- or to steal a phrase off of old AH game boxes, a sense that "you are in command." Being able to help a player become "immersed" in the game is (or should be) an integral function of good game design. Unfortunately, too many games fail to effectively achieve this because (in my opinion) they give the player too much knowledge of and control over what's going on across the battlefield. Simply put, the player isn't filling the role of a commander, but is instead turned into some sort of all-seeing/all powerful superbeing.

Take, for instance, the old SPI game "Wellington's Victory," which models the Battle of Waterloo at the battalion/company level. Who is the player supposed to be representing in this case? Naploeon? As the Army commander, Napoleon issued his orders to corps and divisions, not battalions and companies. Even the corps commanders (Reille, d'Erlon, Kellerman, etc) didn't issue orders to battalions, they directed divisions and brigades. The player is put into a position that didn't exist historically, and so the level of immersion can only be superficial at best.

Admittedly, some commanders occasionally "lead from the front" (vis Napoleon personally sighting a cannon, or Rommel or Patton personally directing traffic at a key road intersection), but when they're in that mode the commander also simultaneously loses the perspective of the "big picture." For the most part, that sort of situational tunnel-vision never happens in game terms -- and this problem is particularly egregious when you're dealing with battles which occurred prior to the advent of wide-spread radio communications.

I think the key is deciding what the appropriate scale is for the game with respect to the level of command that the system purports to be trying to model. A good design will naturally immerse the player in his role as commander -- if he's playing at the tactical level, he'll feel like he's directing the platoons and squads in his company to assault the enemy positions, seek cover from incoming artillery, or put march down that road. A poor game will give the too much to handle, so that he never really feels a connection with the counters on the map: that one there's just another 6-6-7 squad, and I've got another 40 like it...
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Re: Getting onto your board game map......


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Lancer4321 wrote:
Too many games fail to effectively achieve this because (in my opinion) they give the player too much knowledge of and control over what's going on across the battlefield. Simply put, the player isn't filling the role of a commander, but is instead turned into some sort of all-seeing/all powerful superbeing. ...

... The player is put into a position that didn't exist historically, and so the level of immersion can only be superficial at best. ...

... A good design will naturally immerse the player in his role as commander ... A poor game will give the too much to handle, so that he never really feels a connection with the counters on the map: that one there's just another 6-6-7 squad, and I've got another 40 like it...

I disagree. IMO a wargame can be good or bad, regardless of which of those approaches it takes. If that one there's just another 6-6-7 squad and I've got another forty like it, it's really exciting that I get to move all forty of them and make them do all kinds of cool, realistic stuff. Who cares if no real-life commander could micromanage things the way I can? Tough luck for the real-life commander. I'm having fun with this wargame.

Long ago, Aristotle wrote that a play would fail if the stage represented more than one place, or if there were subplots, or if the whole story represented more than a day's time. Any more than that, and the audience would be hopelessly confused and disappointed.

Well, obviously Aristotle was wrong. We've all seen countless plays and films that break all those rules--and most of us prefer the ones that do break them.

Years ago, it bothered me that ASL allows players to fiddle with all kinds of low-level stuff that no real-life commander would be able to manage. I even made up some command-control house rules. Thinking back now, I'd say ASL is fine the way it is. So is Wellington's Victory: Battle of Waterloo Game – June 18th, 1815; it's great for anyone who wants to enjoy hands-on control of all the stuff Wellington and Napoleon could only influence from a high level.

IMO there's plenty of room for all kinds of wargames. They don't all have to force players squarely into the commander's shoes and keep him there.
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crj1944 wrote:
How do you get your head into a position where you don’t see these piles of cardboard with numbers on them as just that?

I don't know "how".

All I know is that I'm transported onto the map the moment I start placing the starting units on the board.
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Da Debil wrote:
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Re: Getting onto your board game map......




Finally a map big enough for my company-scale WIF game...
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Mike Windsor
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I mentally do the "you are there thing" with maps all the time.

My favorite perspective in the Combat Mission computer games was to get just behind my men to see what was going on. It was really cool to watch from "down low."

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Patrick Carroll wrote:
IMO there's plenty of room for all kinds of wargames. They don't all have to force players squarely into the commander's shoes and keep him there.


I don't disagree, nor do I maintain that game like ASL or Wellington's Victory can't be "fun," but at least for me I don't feel like they're even remotely "immersive," that I'm getting anywhere close to being "on the map" (to use crj1944's original phrasing). The reason is that there's no common frame of reference: I can't "be on the board" because I'm really just an observer, a sort of grand disembodied "Eye in the Sky." Again, it doesn't mean that playing a game in that distant/unrealistic role isn't an enjoyable experience, but it doesn't transport me (as crj1944 asked) to "Moscow in a bunker or the Wolfsshanze in East Prussia," let alone to a foxhole alongside Major Winters outside Eindhoven as the 107th Panzer brigade comes clanking down the road.

Conversely, with a well-structured game, like Solomon Sea, the way the decision making in the game is set forth I very definitely feel as if I'm on the flag bridge of Spruance's or Nagumo's carrier (and I can say this with a degree of confidence since I've actually served on Group and Fleet level staffs during my naval career). I don't deal with detailed oriented issues of which individual ship I station on the carrier's port side to provide the best AA coverage or which model of which type of fighter I assign to escort a strike -- instead, I deal with things at the macro level appropriate to the Fleet or Task Force commander: which types of ships are assigned to a Task Force, how many squadrons escort the strike... It "feels" real, and I come away with a sense of how decisions might have been made during the actual event.

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Lancer4321 wrote:
Patrick Carroll wrote:
IMO there's plenty of room for all kinds of wargames. They don't all have to force players squarely into the commander's shoes and keep him there.


I don't disagree, nor do I maintain that game like ASL or Wellington's Victory can't be "fun," but at least for me I don't feel like they're even remotely "immersive," that I'm getting anywhere close to being "on the map" (to use crj1944's original phrasing). The reason is that there's no common frame of reference: I can't "be on the board" because I'm really just an observer, a sort of grand disembodied "Eye in the Sky." Again, it doesn't mean that playing a game in that distant/unrealistic role isn't an enjoyable experience, but it doesn't transport me (as crj1944 asked) to "Moscow in a bunker or the Wolfsshanze in East Prussia," let alone to a foxhole alongside Major Winters outside Eindhoven as the 107th Panzer brigade comes clanking down the road.

Conversely, with a well-structured game, like Solomon Sea, the way the decision making in the game is set forth I very definitely feel as if I'm on the flag bridge of Spruance's or Nagumo's carrier (and I can say this with a degree of confidence since I've actually served on Group and Fleet level staffs during my naval career). I don't deal with detailed oriented issues of which individual ship I station on the carrier's port side to provide the best AA coverage or which model of which type of fighter I assign to escort a strike -- instead, I deal with things at the macro level appropriate to the Fleet or Task Force commander: which types of ships are assigned to a Task Force, how many squadrons escort the strike... It "feels" real, and I come away with a sense of how decisions might have been made during the actual event.

That's fine, I guess, if you only like to experience one level of command at a time. Me, I don't have any problem being an "eye in the sky" one minute and minutely setting up a square to defend against an attack by the Imperial Guard cavalry the next. I'm happy to order my fleet across an ocean and decide what kind of bombs to load my carrier-based planes with. One of the great things about being a wargamer instead of a military commander is that a wargamer gets to do it all--as much as he likes, in any combination of experiences he prefers.

Some people evidently play wargames mainly to get some sense of military command while fighting mock campaigns and battles. For me, military command is just one of the many aspects of warfare I want to vicariously experience. I like the freedom of being able to zoom in and out at will, taking care of high-level directives and also sending Private Jones up to the enemy bunker with a satchel charge to see if he can take it out while Sergeant Smith covers him with BAR fire.

As you say, it's possible for a game design to dump too much on a player, forcing him to deal with more than is bearable. Some wargames are too big and complicated or fiddly for me. But I really don't care at all if a game allows me to, in effect, play various echelons of command all at once. As long as the game is playable and fun, I consider it a bonus if I get to do more than the highest-ranking commander could have.

And I definitely want to have more information than high-level commanders would be likely to have. The more info I have, the better. I want to see and experience all I can.

In short, I think the bit about wargamers just wanting to learn the art of military command has been grossly overstated. Speaking for this wargamer, I want some of that, yes, but also much, much more.
 
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For me, it's all about reading a number of books before breaking out the game and moving pieces. For some people, it's better to wargame first and read the books later, to keep from having historical blinders put on regarding the possibilities. But for me, I love having the background before playing the game.

For example, if I'm going to play games on the 1809 campaign between France and Austria, I'd have to read Gill's magisterial trilogy on the campaign before breaking out games on the campaign (typically 1809: Napoleon's Danube Campaign and The Seven Days of 1809) or battle games, such as The Last Success: Napoleon's March to Vienna, 1809, Aspern-Essling, Napoleon and the Archduke Charles: The Battle of Aspern-Essling, Aspern-Essling 1809, Napoleon and the Archduke Charles: The Battle of Abensberg, Napoleon and the Archduke Charles: The Battle of Eckmuhl, and La Bataille de Deutsch-Wagram.

Just puts me in the proper frame of mind....
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_Kael_ wrote:
For Squad Leader (with all those AFVs draw from top view), I looked up what each AFV looked like. In fact, I made a webpage for it.



Your M4A4 is actually an M4A1.

You need a copy of TWJ.

whatambush wrote:
Most of my gaming is done solo and there are times when I pause in a game just to imagine what is happening down there on the map. It isn't a conscious thing, I just find myself drifting off and immersing myself in the unwritten details of the game. I can visualise what is happening but I think this is a relative new experience for me, I cannot remember doing this 20 or 30 years ago.


I thought everyone did this too, but one of the ASL bloggers is doing a "15 questions" segment on a monthly basis. Turns out a lot of the tournament guys are responding to the "do you see pictures in your head" question with "no", which surprised me. They look at ASL as a - apparently - mathematical exercise, or a rulebook exercise, which I suppose isn't surprising given the kind of game ASL is. It just goes to show the diversity of the community and how many types of players the game can appeal to.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
I think the bit about wargamers just wanting to learn the art of military command has been grossly overstated.

Oh, I don't know about that...
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Michael Dorosh wrote:
whatambush wrote:
Most of my gaming is done solo and there are times when I pause in a game just to imagine what is happening down there on the map. It isn't a conscious thing, I just find myself drifting off and immersing myself in the unwritten details of the game. I can visualise what is happening but I think this is a relative new experience for me, I cannot remember doing this 20 or 30 years ago.

I thought everyone did this too, but one of the ASL bloggers is doing a "15 questions" segment on a monthly basis. Turns out a lot of the tournament guys are responding to the "do you see pictures in your head" question with "no", which surprised me. They look at ASL as a - apparently - mathematical exercise, or a rulebook exercise, which I suppose isn't surprising given the kind of game ASL is.

Doesn't surprise me at all. I've been noticing for decades that tournament ASL players did just that. To my mind, it was a good reason to avoid tournaments and enjoy ASL the "right" way. Even back in my earliest days of wargaming, I shook my head at the AREA ratings and all; that always seemed to clash with what my hobby was about.

I've grown past believing those wargamers are wrong; now I see that they're just different from me. But what they're doing would be all wrong for me. If I want to kick back and just "play army," I'll play a wargame. If I want to test myself competitively against an opponent, I'll play chess instead.

There is one thing I still do think is wrong (though maybe it's just a straw-man argument, as you'll see). If any of those tournament ASLers seriously believes that his expertise in the game would make him a better commander in a similar real-life situation, I say he's full of it. Odds are he's one of the last guys I'd ever want to serve under.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
Michael Dorosh wrote:
whatambush wrote:
Most of my gaming is done solo and there are times when I pause in a game just to imagine what is happening down there on the map. It isn't a conscious thing, I just find myself drifting off and immersing myself in the unwritten details of the game. I can visualise what is happening but I think this is a relative new experience for me, I cannot remember doing this 20 or 30 years ago.

I thought everyone did this too, but one of the ASL bloggers is doing a "15 questions" segment on a monthly basis. Turns out a lot of the tournament guys are responding to the "do you see pictures in your head" question with "no", which surprised me. They look at ASL as a - apparently - mathematical exercise, or a rulebook exercise, which I suppose isn't surprising given the kind of game ASL is.

Doesn't surprise me at all. I've been noticing for decades that tournament ASL players did just that. To my mind, it was a good reason to avoid tournaments and enjoy ASL the "right" way. Even back in my earliest days of wargaming, I shook my head at the AREA ratings and all; that always seemed to clash with what my hobby was about.

I've grown past believing those wargamers are wrong; now I see that they're just different from me. But what they're doing would be all wrong for me. If I want to kick back and just "play army," I'll play a wargame. If I want to test myself competitively against an opponent, I'll play chess instead.

There is one thing I still do think is wrong (though maybe it's just a straw-man argument, as you'll see). If any of those tournament ASLers seriously believes that his expertise in the game would make him a better commander in a similar real-life situation, I say he's full of it. Odds are he's one of the last guys I'd ever want to serve under.


This sentiment reminds me of when I used to figure game and walking around a show one year with a friend. He asked if I had ever seen the tournament players who were off in a side room. I replied No I haven't and off we went. Now in figure gaming one of the pleasing aspects is the terrain but the tourney players were fighting over bits of coloured card, me and my friend just looked at each other and left.
 
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whatambush wrote:
Now in figure gaming one of the pleasing aspects is the terrain but the tourney players were fighting over bits of coloured card, me and my friend just looked at each other and left.

 
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whatambush wrote:
This sentiment reminds me of when I used to figure game and walking around a show one year with a friend. He asked if I had ever seen the tournament players who were off in a side room. I replied No I haven't and off we went. Now in figure gaming one of the pleasing aspects is the terrain but the tourney players were fighting over bits of coloured card, me and my friend just looked at each other and left.

Funny--a friend and I had the opposite experience in May 1972, when we went to our first wargaming convention. We'd been board wargamers, and most everybody at the convention was a miniaturist (figure gamer). We spent most of the time whispering to each other about grown men playing with toy soldiers. Our kind of wargaming seemed much more mature and intellectual.

About a week afterward, though, we were talking on the phone. I don't know who admitted it first, but we had both decided we wanted to get into miniatures.

We never did get far into it. But I think it influenced our take on wargaming. For one thing, it reinforced the notion that wargaming is about re-creating battles, not competing over a board game.
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It's always been my experience that figures gamers are far less likely to argue over rules. They do tend to discuss the deplorable amount of stretch in some people's tape measures though...
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After many years of wargaming I also thought about the roleplaying aspect of wargaming. My house rule for me was to pick a unit of my force that would represent the unit I was the commander of, write it down and pull it out after play. I would not attempt to remember which unit it was during play and then see if I survived. I was afraid if I kept close track of my unit it would either die a glorious death for no purpose trying to be heroic or the unit would act like a 'pansy'.

I like the idea of playing ASL using the solo rules but have never done so. I like the idea of having a unit with history.
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Michael Dorosh wrote:
_Kael_ wrote:
For Squad Leader (with all those AFVs draw from top view), I looked up what each AFV looked like. In fact, I made a webpage for it.



Your M4A4 is actually an M4A1.

You need a copy of TWJ.
Thanks.
Blame google.
What's TWJ?
 
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Well done, Michael.
I, too, was going to bring up Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy as a vehicle for greater war game immersion.

I realize that PC war gamers and board war gamers sometimes seem like two distant communities. And in most cases, I'd say PC games have little or nothing to interest the dedicated board war gamer.

But for me, CMBN has opened a new frontier -- one that has greatly enhanced my immersion and enjoyment of the PC game and board games at the same time.
That's because I like to use a board game as an operational campaign layer, and then play out selected battles in 3D using CMBN.

Currently, my opponent and I are in the 6th day-turn of an operational-tactical campaign using CMBN with Joseph Balkoski's excellent board game, Saint-Lo. Now all the PC battles have a realistic, larger context of supply, maneuver, etc. And when I look at the board game counters, I never have to strain my imagination to "get into" the map, because I can make them come alive any time I want in CMBN.

I've now begun a similar campaign for Operation Epsom, using Panzer Grenadier|Beyond Normandy as the op layer.

Another board game that works well as an op layer for CMBN, due to its scale and scope, is the recent Jon Prados design, Bradley's D-Day.
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