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Subject: Common Myths and Errors in Wargame Design rss

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John Theissen
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Over the years certain myths have crept into wargames. These errors, some created in the early days of wargaming, have stuck with us ever since. It is time to examine these fallacies and finally end their use. The myths are in italics here, and are in no particular order.

Complexity equals realism. The more complicated the game, the more realistic it may appear. But merely because a game has more rules, charts, and procedures, doesn’t make it more accurate. In fact the more processes stuffed into a game, the greater the possibility of errors creeping in. The fact is that simpler rules often produce an end result that is as realistic, or even more so, than complex rules.
Playtesting will usually be reduced for more complex systems, and simpler designs can lead to greater playtesting.

Time per turn is arbitrary. No it isn’t. What we’re talking about here is the simulated time in a game turn, like two hours per turn, or one week per turn, etc. This is no more arbitrary than the order of battle or the map, yet designers continually bungle this concept. It seems that some designers assign time per turn as if pulled randomly from a hat, rather than correctly matching the time per turn to the scale and situation. Time per turn must take into account the game scale and subject matter, and analyze what should be able to be accomplished in a game turn. If, for example, you have a strategic WWII game with 50 miles per hex and 3 months per turn, it’s wrong. It’s as wrong as creating a regimental level game of the battle of Gettysburg with a dozen regiments per side.

Overrun. This myth says that attackers are “overrunning” defenders, the attackers apparently roll, or sprint, past the defenders. This is inaccurate. Given the situation and scale, combat during the movement phase can be perfectly acceptable. And an attacker does not have to always be penalized for attacking during movement. If the attacker pays the appropriate movement points, that attack should be carried out full strength. The main point is that combat during the movement phase may or may not be appropriate, it depends on the situation. But it's not representing "Overrun".

Halfway between 1-2 and 1-1 is 2-3. No, not if you’re looking for the midpoint. Some designers set up a 2:3 odds column between 1:2 and 1:1 on a Combat Results table, but that column should actually be 3:4. Let’s look at it graphically.
Here are some CRT columns, with their percentages.

Erroneous:
1:2(50%) 2:3(67%) 1:1(100%) 3:2(150%) 2:1 (200%)

Correct:
1:2(50%) 3:4(75%) 1:1(100%) 3:2(150%) 2:1(200%)

To be continued in Part Two...
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Wendell
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Why did you split this into two separate threads?
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Pelle Nilsson
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melchett1 wrote:

Complexity equals realism. The more complicated the game, the more realistic it may appear. But merely because a game has more rules, charts, and procedures, doesn’t make it more accurate. In fact the more processes stuffed into a game, the greater the possibility of errors creeping in. The fact is that simpler rules often produce an end result that is as realistic, or even more so, than complex rules.
Playtesting will usually be reduced for more complex systems, and simpler designs can lead to greater playtesting.


This is something that have been haunting computer wargames even more than board wargames, in addition to their huge problem of "solve any problem by throwing bigger spreadsheets of data at them".

Quote:
Time per turn is arbitrary. No it isn’t.


I think the best games have very unspecific scale, especially time scale. Battles or operations never moved at a constant rate. You need to allow for short bursts of activity mixed with lots of downtime, so averaging it out to some reasonably long turn time seems correct to me.

If a game is built on exact calculations of how far a unit can move in a turn, or what the effect of fire would be in that time, I think it is already lost to the myth of complexity and bottom-up design, rather than using abstractions and designing for the proper results (top-down).

Quote:
Overrun. This myth says that attackers are “overrunning” defenders


I think the term is good enough. What would be better?

I usually hate overrun rules though. Like LOS rules and assault rules they are often annoyingly used, and not have special cases not used enough that you quickly memorize all details.

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Halfway between 1-2 and 1-1 is 2-3. No, not if you’re looking for the midpoint. Some designers set up a 2:3 odds column between 1:2 and 1:1 on a Combat Results table, but that column should actually be 3:4. Let’s look at it graphically.
Here are some CRT columns, with their percentages.


3:2 or 2:3 is painful enough to calculate as it is really, not need for 3:4 to make it even worse (see my logarithmic thread though! it has much more detail, with only simple subtraction).

But CRTs are fudged and not based on hard maths anyway. You can't say that all the die-roll-modifiers or column-shifts make perfect mathematical sense, or that the probabilities for realistic outcomes are always correct given the units included. They are not. Odds-based CRTs will never be detailed enough for units of similar strength (eg 16 attacking 15), differential will never work in the opposite case (eg 16 attacking 2). Add to this tables that use 2d6 combined with drm, and it gets even worse.

The chosen columns isn't really important anyway, as long as the results for each one is properly adjusted for the average of odds that will end up on that table. You could make a game with 1:1, 3:2, 3:1, 7:1 columns only if you want to. There is no rule that a column must be in the exact middle of the two adjacent columns.

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Paul Brillantes
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Well, when it comes right down to it...

To be continued in thread 2.
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Martin Gallo
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pelni wrote:
This is something that have been haunting computer wargames even more than board wargames, in addition to their huge problem of "solve any problem by throwing bigger spreadsheets of data at them".
I saw an ad for a computer game over the weekend that bragged that you could control the careers of over 1,000 generals. I stopped reading right there (and did NOT buy the game).
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Mike Hoyt

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melchett1 wrote:
Over the years certain myths have crept into wargames. These errors, some created in the early days of wargaming, have stuck with us ever since. It is time to examine these fallacies and finally end their use. The myths are in italics here, and are in no particular order.

Time per turn is arbitrary. ..


I think you overstate your case. The complexity = realism debate was waged in the 70's, and pretty well resolved at that time with a recognition that additional complexity did not necessarily yield more realism. I bet you can think of dozens of designs over the past 40 years that are both simpler and more realistic...

I don't know of anybody who would argue time per turn is arbitrary. There are approaches, an attempt at a definite turn length, which then governs movement rates, resupply/production, etc. and another more fluid sense of a turn where time is abstracted and the limitations tend to be more of the nature of having sufficent cards, or supply/command points. But arbitrary?

I will grant you that at least one WWII game I'm aware of has a completely skewed time/production/movement/turn rate ( Victory: The Blocks of War ) but I doubt there are too many other examples?
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John Theissen
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Mike, I actually agree with you. I think you read it wrong, the italicized sentences are the ones that I think are false.
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Darrell Hanning
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blockhead wrote:
I think you overstate your case. The complexity = realism debate was waged in the 70's, and pretty well resolved at that time with a recognition that additional complexity did not necessarily yield more realism. I bet you can think of dozens of designs over the past 40 years that are both simpler and more realistic...


You're quite correct, it was, and a lot of people on BGG weren't playing wargames (or even alive, yet) when that debate raged. And so some think this is the first time around for that debate.

But there's two sides to that coin. Granted, a simpler game yields less opportunity for compounding of errors (or reduces the effect in magnitude, if you prefer), but get one thing a little wrong in a simple system, and it has a proportionately large effect on the game. In that same vein, less complexity not only reduces the opportunity for compounding of errors, it also reduces the opportunities for errors at lower levels of subsystems to be absorbed or cancelled out by the system "above" it. As an analogy, consider the impact of a defective gene carried by 10 animals in a population of 50, versus in an animal population of 500, or 5000.

Too, the design of a simpler game requires more relevant data to be rolled into a given design decision (unless the designer is simply using less data, which obviously has its own shortcomings). More data per decision made means more opportunity for getting the cumulative effect wrong.

The rationale that simpler systems yield more faithful results is seductive, but you need to look beyond the paradigm that simplicity yields elegance, to what a given system is actually doing. In many cases, the spread of possible outcomes in a simpler system is simply due to constraints imposed by the designer (i.e., "iron maiden" rules).

Don't get me wrong - there are simpler simulations that do "get it right", where the designer has made the right choices, and given the players ample opportunity for ahistorical deviation, with rational results as a consequence. But in many ways, getting it right in a simpler game is as difficult (or more difficult) a challenge, as it is in more complex games.
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Mike Hoyt

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or we could just say that the complexity and realism scales are independent.

Which I think is the case. The fallacy was that increased realism can only come as the result of increased complexity. De-link those two and you can still have different player preferences for different levels of both. There is no "right" answer for all topics for all time.
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melchett1 wrote:
Over the years certain myths have crept into wargames. These errors, some created in the early days of wargaming, have stuck with us ever since. It is time to examine these fallacies and finally end their use. The myths are in italics here, and are in no particular order.

Complexity equals realism.

That is the one point I agree with.

Quote:
Time per turn is arbitrary.

I'm actually not familiar with any game that has this as a tenet. There are many games that assume that time per turn is variable, which is a different thing, and perfectly fine if the rest of the system including the scenario design accounts for it.

Quote:
Overrun. This myth says that attackers are “overrunning” defenders, the attackers apparently roll, or sprint, past the defenders.

This isn't even a myth, it's a simple misinterpretation of a well established term that you're reading too much into.

Quote:
Given the situation and scale, combat during the movement phase can be perfectly acceptable. And an attacker does not have to always be penalized for attacking during movement. If the attacker pays the appropriate movement points, that attack should be carried out full strength. The main point is that combat during the movement phase may or may not be appropriate, it depends on the situation. But it's not representing "Overrun".

No, you've got the direction wrong. "Overrun" is simply the short term for "combat that's over during the movement phase" in games that have a separate combat phase for larger combats, instead of combats during the movement phase being designated "overrun" because they have to conform to some hypothetical universal concept of how that combat must occur. I've never seen it explained any differently.

Quote:
Halfway between 1-2 and 1-1 is 2-3. No, not if you’re looking for the midpoint. Some designers set up a 2:3 odds column between 1:2 and 1:1 on a Combat Results table, but that column should actually be 3:4.

Actually, a designer can put any columns on a CRT that they want, as long as the results in that column fit the expected outcomes for those odds. Real world combats don't naturally fall into 2:1 or 3:1 or 4:1 breakpoints either. The reason those columns are used is because they are easy to compute for the players. Same for 3:2 and 2:3.

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blockhead wrote:
melchett1 wrote:
Over the years certain myths have crept into wargames. These errors, some created in the early days of wargaming, have stuck with us ever since. It is time to examine these fallacies and finally end their use. The myths are in italics here, and are in no particular order.

Time per turn is arbitrary. ..


I think you overstate your case. The complexity = realism debate was waged in the 70's, and pretty well resolved at that time with a recognition that additional complexity did not necessarily yield more realism.

I would agree that the debate was potentially resolved, however you still do run into a lot of people who have not gotten the memo. It is not infrequent finds someone instinctively making exactly that judgment still, and so being reminded of it occasionally is not a bad thing. (There are also the people who claim that because games are so abstract they can't be a simulation - they are usually in the opposite camp, but they are victim to the same fallacy.)
 
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DarrellKH wrote:

But there's two sides to that coin. Granted, a simpler game yields less opportunity for compounding of errors (or reduces the effect in magnitude, if you prefer), but get one thing a little wrong in a simple system, and it has a proportionately large effect on the game. In that same vein, less complexity not only reduces the opportunity for compounding of errors, it also reduces the opportunities for errors at lower levels of subsystems to be absorbed or cancelled out by the system "above" it. As an analogy, consider the impact of a defective gene carried by 10 animals in a population of 50, versus in an animal population of 500, or 5000.

Too, the design of a simpler game requires more relevant data to be rolled into a given design decision (unless the designer is simply using less data, which obviously has its own shortcomings). More data per decision made means more opportunity for getting the cumulative effect wrong.

The rationale that simpler systems yield more faithful results is seductive, but you need to look beyond the paradigm that simplicity yields elegance, to what a given system is actually doing. In many cases, the spread of possible outcomes in a simpler system is simply due to constraints imposed by the designer (i.e., "iron maiden" rules).

In any system, the spread of possible outcomes is simply due to constraints imposed by the designer. The difference is that in a simpler system those rules are closer to the surface. So the "iron maiden" view is more due to player perception than the actual presence of restrictions. It is correct that having a simpler game means taking out some more detailed choices (otherwise there would be no simplification).

Quote:
Don't get me wrong - there are simpler simulations that do "get it right", where the designer has made the right choices, and given the players ample opportunity for ahistorical deviation, with rational results as a consequence. But in many ways, getting it right in a simpler game is as difficult (or more difficult) a challenge, as it is in more complex games.

Technically, it is probably about the same - the reduced difficulty of juggling fewer variables in the design sort of being counterbalanced by the fact that one needs to make sure the other variables are incorporated in a proper fashion. What definitely makes the simple designer's task more difficult is that it typically is easier to spot the mistakes when they are not buried under a morass of detail.
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one phrase that I dont quite agree with is the "time is random" thing.

I would not put it that way. Almost every designer, if forced to choose a specific unit of time, would have to pick some increment, but it is not necessarily random.

Not to put words in the OPs mouth but I think a better phrase might be:

"Time is a discreet unit". "Quantized" or "atomized" might also be good synonmys here for what is going on.

I think this approach tends to straight jacket designers as it provides so much information to the players. For example: I know there is no chance that a certain division will ever get to pt. X in the next turn. So I can base my planning around that. So many traditional wargames from the old days brought that idea with them and it becomes simply a matter of counting how far units can reach.

WHereas in real life, enemy unit capabilities are so hard to discern, that creates an element of surprise that must be accounted for in real life. But in these games, there are lots of possibilities that are not possible because of the fixed time per turn approach.

Some of this is alluded to above. I guess it is easy to take a conventional approach to this problem, but I think a more out of the box approach would allow "game time" to vary so as to create greater possibilties for the enemy.
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bill betts
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I think the[biggest myth is the more troops you send in to battle the fewer casuaties you take. Getting that 7:1+ or 10:1+ ratio ensures you will take no/few casualties.

I believe it is true the more troops you can send in, the greater your chance of winning the battle, but higher unit density means more casualties. This of course means the winner of the battle could have more casualties.

I suppose belief in all your troops responding immediately to your commands is another myth, but some games have tried to address this.
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Sam Carroll
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This is why I like independent rolls: either a double CRT as in PoG (also done very well in Clash of Monarchs or a bucket o' dice system.
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Carl Paradis
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appb1 wrote:
I think the[biggest myth is the more troops you send in to battle the fewer casuaties you take. Getting that 7:1+ or 10:1+ ratio ensures you will take no/few casualties.

I believe it is true the more troops you can send in, the greater your chance of winning the battle, but higher unit density means more casualties. This of course means the winner of the battle could have more casualties.

I suppose belief in all your troops responding immediately to your commands is another myth, but some games have tried to address this.


Depends on the game and what is simulated... Higher odds do not always means that your are piling up the troops. It perhaps represent better leadership? Artillery support? A badly trained defender? Surprise? etc...

And if it is more troops, this does not absolutely mean that they are all bunched up together. Some may be used as fresh reserves to relieve the first wave of troops, or to do outflanking moves, or supporting fire, the list of posibilities is endless.

There is more that meets the eye here...
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bill betts
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"Depends on the game and what is simulated... Higher odds do not always means that your are piling up the troops. It perhaps represent better leadership? Artillery support? A badly trained defender? Surprise? etc..."

The games I was refering to are the games where you simply add more troops to get that "magic" ratio. I assume regardless of the number of troops, flanking, finding weakness,reserves to exploit success, etc are always part of the attack.

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