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Subject: Luck in wargames - talk to me, wargamers rss

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Many eurogamers seem to dislike games that involve too much luck. Dice, in particular, seem to be despised as old-fashioned.

I used to play lighter wargames (GEV, etc.). I have recently started playing them again, after many years; one thing that stuck me was the realization that were were playing with *dice* in those old wargames. And many of the best new and top-rated wargames also seem to still use dice for determining combat results.

Wargamers, talk to me about the luck factor in wargames.
- Does it bother you?
- What is its purpose – To encourage you to take calculated risks? To simulate the capriciousness of the dogs of war?
- What are the best wargames out there that do not use dice?
- Of these best wargames, which are fairly lightweight?

(I'm not trying to start a flamewar here with eurogamers vs. wargamers. This is a genuine question. Let's keep this thread civil - if you feel the urge to flame on this topic, please start your own thread.)
 
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Brad Miller
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I think a lot of luck factors were mitigated as wargame design evolved. Consider the 1-1 attack on Tobruk in Africa Korps or versus Rotterdam in D-Day. That single die roll would often decide the game, regardless of earlier play, (disregarding the skill level of the play it took to get to that point). That was bad. Then look at games with huge numbers of dice rolls, (War at Sea was the first AH game that went this way, but VitP or Titan would qualify as well). The odds that the roll of one die will determine the outcome is unlikely. Most of the Columbia games have this as well. And while you can get hosed by having a bad run of luck over a long period of time, (especially early in a game), the dice should even out over the course of the game. That makes the luck not so bad.

AS for luckless wargames, I will add to the growing number of posters who are going to say Bonaparte at Marengo.
 
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Ron Pfeiffer
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Luck simply is a part of any gaming experience. More than that luck also is a huge part of any battle that has ever been fought in any war that you can think of. Thats just the way it is. The "BEST LAID PLANS" can always be waylaid by an order being misinterpreted, bad timing, good timing, or any other event that might happen. The key is to try and deal with what probably might happen with at least some consideration being give to unlikely events that could occur. Is it frustrating? YES it is but that is the nature of the beast. If your perfect plan succumbs to the one and only die roll that could defeat it then so be it. Many battles throughout history have been decided by unlikely events. If you were sure that your plan was perfect then there is no reason to play the game. I always think of those unlikely events (die rolls) as simply being part of the "FOG OF WAR"
 
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Dan Buterbaugh
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I like dice in the game, as long as there aren't certain rolls that effect the game too drastically. Something like Squad Leader has lots of rolls, and one or two bad ones shouldn't ruin the game. Axis and Allies: D-Day has some rolls on the event card that can make or break the Allies in particular (only being able to land at one beach due to weather, for example).
For a good diceless wargame, try A Game of Thrones.
 
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Hunga Dunga
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I'll second the recommendation of A Game of Thrones. Diplomacy is also good, but requires more time to play.

In today's wargames, dice are used to quantify aspects of battle that cannot be known. For example, a high morale unit will commit to combat easier than a low morale unit, but a low morale unit will commit to combat, just not as frequently. How do you figure that out? Dice! A high morale unit with a morale of 8 will be able to engage whenever you want them to - almost, if you're rolling a d10 to get them committed to an attack. By the same example, a unit with a morale of 3 will hardly ever commit to combat, but might just surprise you when you need them the most! So is that luck? I think it's trying to model meaningful aspects of the reailty of battle.
 
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Bonaparte at Marengo is a great diceless wargame.
 
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Harald Torvatn
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Dice (and other random elements, like cards) serve at many purposes in wargames:

From a simulation point of wiev, die rolls simulate the things which is beyond controll of the player's role in the game.

Die rolls also introduce drama to the playing. Many fun wargames can produce several dozen die rolls during each of which the players feel the outcome of the game depends on this single die roll.

Die rolls introduce skills assosiated to risk taking and risk management to the playing. Thereby they increase the ammount of skill usefull for PLAYING the game (even if they somewhat diminishes the effect skill has on WINNING the game.)


I am not bothered at all by dice, and I much prefer games with some random elements to those which does not have them.
 
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Ken Feldman
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With newer wargames, the combat results tables (CRTs) tend to have step losses more frequently than AE (attacker eliminated), DE (defender eliminated) and EX (exchange - both players lose an equal number of units) results. This tends to make combat less of an "all or nothing" gamble and gives units some staying power.

Newer games (1990s and later) have rules that provide some fog of war, command control, or other rules to prevent the factor counting to get to a certain column on a CRT. I like the randomness that dice provide in these cases.

Many games use a "roll to hit" approach to getting combat results. This eliminates the need for a CRT and the odds calculations that go with a CRT and tends to speed up play. Some of the most sucessful light wargames, Battle Cry and Memoir '44 have special dice that have unit symbols instead of numbers. While this approach is especially good for introductory wargames, it's used even in more advanced games like GMT's Napoleonic Wars and Wellington.

I like the randomness that dice provide in wargames. However, it drives me crazy in a game like Cities and Knights of Cataan. I think it's because in wargames you can devise strategies that allow you to mitigate the effects of bad luck but in a Euro reliant on dice rolls you're out of luck if you don't get the rolls.
 
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Hilary Hartman
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A lot of the older wargames have those CRTs which result in KIAs, wounds, or even morale rolls based on the attackers dice roll.

I didn't realize, really, how devastating a good die roll can be in the older games, like Squad Leader, versus the "step-reduction" losses I'm used to taking in the block wargames (Columbia games in general). I just brought Squad Leader to the table, today, after a nearly 25 year hiatus from playing, and there's a huge difference in how losses are taken between the two types of games...but it also causes me to think more about my strategy and the like.

So, yeah, there's a good bit of "luck" in the die roll.

And usually not any for me...

cry
 
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Dan Buterbaugh
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The difference between Squad Leader and Eastfront is more a matter of scale, which I believe is accuarately reflected in the differing games. It's a heck of a lot easier for 10 men (SL) to get killed in a battle than it is for 1000 men(EF).
 
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Quote:
Wargamers, talk to me about the luck factor in wargames.
- Does it bother you?


Not really. I see it as taking in to consideration all sorts of things not covered by most games (with the possible exception of CNA meeple ), are the vehicles fully fuelled? Did the troops get enough sleep last night? Are they fit? Which direction is the wind coming from? Do they trust their commanding officer? etc.

Quote:
- What is its purpose – To encourage you to take calculated risks? To simulate the capriciousness of the dogs of war?


To simulate risk, in most of these games you can mount enough forces so that the combat outcome is either a sure thing or very close to it. However if you are only 60% as strong as required to have a sure thing outcome then the outcome is no longer guaranteed n'est ce pas? Also see my comments above.

I'll pass on the next two questions since I haven't played any new wargames for a while.
 
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robin goblin
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To let you know how much luck in wargames *doesn't* bother me: Bonaparte at Marengo might be a great game, but I did not like it one bit. Blech! Horrid. Get that yucky taste out of my gaming life.

Wargames are games and simulations; a military simulation without luck is a poor simulation, as humans (and human formations) are unpredictable. Sometimes you fire at them and they run for their lives, sometimes they shoot back, sometimes they cower, and sometimes they jump up and run at you (ok, perhaps not so often that one!). How the heck could anyone simulate *that* without luck?

If you are a better player than your opponent you will still end up winning for the most part, as part of being good is, as others have said, managing the luck and levels of risk....

Robin
 
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Paul Glenn
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I agree with Ron--dice allow for the friction of war to come into a game. This is particularly true for older games where you can control all your units every turn, and they all move exactly as you want them to.
 
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Hunga Dunga
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It's not so much luck as it is understanding the probabilities.

If you don't like dice, play Chess or Go.

Otherwise, choose from any of HUNDREDS of good wargames on the market today.
 
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Playit Faster
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There is no "luck" in real wargames. During a game you will make hundreds of dicerolls. The average of all those will be around 3.5 so both you and your opponent will have the same result in the end.

The dice is merely used to represent the chaotic nature of battle, you can never be 100% of an outcome before an real battle.

But given the 3.5 average and knowledge of rules and the CRT used, should punish one if always making risky 1:1 attacks for example, you could be "lucky" once in a while and roll a high score but in the long run one will only bleed ones army to death. Insted it might be better to take advantage of special units/rules and also make fewer but high-odds attacks, all depending on the gamerules and the sitution at hand.

So don´t be afraid of the dice!
It´s actually quite fun, especially in a game like ASL, where
dicerolls have other meanings as well, for example when rallying
a squad, rolling a 2 will enable a special event. Rolling an 12
will make them a halfsquad.
 
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Philip Thomas
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(Not a wargamer). Hundreds of dice rolls doesn't necessarily eliminate luck- there can be a lot riding on a particular dice roll, or on whether there are n kills or n+1 kills (normally odds are fairly small there). Warhammer 40k is pretty prone to this. Risk management is all very well, but there are degrees here...For example I far prefer the Mare Nostrum combat system (add up all your dice and kill one thing for every 5 points) to the Axisa and Allies system (look at all your dice and kill one thing for every 5 or 6 rolled). The two are similar in small battles but MN increases casualties at a non-linear rate with size increase (up to a plateau).

Game of Thrones doesn't have dice, but it has luck in the eurogame part of it, which is even worse.

Diplomacy doesn't have dice...

 
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Glenn Pruitt
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Diplomacy doesn't have dice - but it does have luck. I've played a lot of online diplomacy and I've seen luck factor in very often. It's not uncommon to have a situation where you can launch an attack with support into region A or B, and your opponent can support either the unit in A or B. Meaning if you guess right you win, if you guess wrong you lose - and it's a 50/50 shot.

It's a very very rare game that has no luck elements involved. Beyond games like Chess or Go I have a hard time thinking of any. Personally I hate games with no luck element because it gets too intense and personal. If you beat someone at chess, it's simply because at that moment in time you were better than him. I vastly prefer games where your fortunes are dependent upon luck factors or the capricious choices of other players (Puerto Rico). You can feel better about losing, and you don't get a fat head from winning - fun is important to me.

As for dice in wargames, I think it depends on the game mechanic being resolved. I've been working on a couple of sets of miniature wargame rules and one feature I really like is the handful of dice roll for missile fire. When a regiment fires a volley, it is much more satisfying to throw gobs of dice in a box lid than to flip a single D6 in the air. On the other hand, I determine command capabilities by playing cards. To me, each luck mechanic feels right for its function. And that is what is important for me in game designs in general - does the luck mechanic fit what the game is trying to be?

 
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Merv D
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Although not luckless, Friedrich is diceless. It uses Tactics cards to resolve battle. Although you're at mercy of the draw, you still decide how to use them. You most certainly have to pick your battles, somewhat determined by your hand, to survive. But clever card play is key as well.

We the People and Hannibal:RvC uses cards as well. At the start of each battle, you're given a hand according to your general's tactical rating, the number of troops you have, and maybe a couple other factors. You play a card (something like right flank, probe, double envelopment) and your opponent tries to match. Whenever a player can't match a card then that player loses the battle. There is a die roll to determine a successful counterattack for the defender if he choses to do so. There's also a die roll to determine interception...but I digress, battle cards (and tactics cards for Friedrich) are great fun because of the luck and the fact you have some control of how it plays out.
 
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Andrew Parkin
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I'm suprised noone's mentioned the much used quote on this by Carl von Clauswitz (author of "On War" and the most famous military theorist.)

he said

"War is the province of chance"

 
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Michael Von Ahnen
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There is luck and then there is luck.

In the traditional hex and counter wargames with CRT's, the luck is what you make it. In most cases, if you have odds from 1:2 to 2:1, the result is all up to the luck of the die. Below that, the attacker will loose, above that the attack will win. So luck goes with the player that plans the best, the way it should be. There are tons of complaints about factor counting of these games, but again, the advantage goes to the player who plans ahead, has backup plans, etc. Low odds attacks are taken only in desperate situations, when there is no other option.

Mentioned above is the example of the attack on Tobruck in Afrika Korps. But was not the Afrika Korps in a desperate situation, in which Rommel in essence had to "roll the die". His personal leadership made the difference, but what if he had been killed in battle? What would have been the fate of the Afrika Korps and the war in the desert then.

I have played two wargames that had zero luck. Diplomacy and Kreigspeil. Diplomacy is great game, but frankly military strategy plays only a small part. Diplomatic strategy is the key to the game, which is beyond the dice or control of the players. Kreigspeil is a traditional hex and counter game in which the attacker and defenders select option cards. The combination of these cards determine the result of the combat. The mechanics, however, were coarse and not very smooth, having an all or nothing feel.

I have also played "bucket of dice" games, including games like Axis and Allies, Fortress America, Risk, Victory in the Pacific, and War at Sea. What I have seen is that eventually you will run into a combat in which the averages get all messed up and what would be impossible in real life. The games are easier to play, because most of the battles come down to a colision of forces that wear themselves down and hundreds of die rolls. Not much maneuvering, because they are usually area movement, with much less resolution. Victory in the Pacific has the advantage of a few more areas, less concentration of forces, and unit density which makes it a bit more playable. But the variability is still there.

I personally like the CRT concept, because the battle of evenly matched forces is much different from those with significant differences. If you want better luck, get better odds. Montgomery was very sucessful using this tactic.
 
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Michael pretty much sums it up here:

Quote:
If you want better luck, get better odds. Montgomery was very sucessful using this tactic.


Adapt your strategy to the system in use and as you learn the game this will become the measure by which you judge your skill at it.

Even so, there will be those moments where everything you can do has been done and an unfortunate twist of fate shatters your strategy. I think that mimicks real life.
 
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Quote:
Adapt your strategy to the system in use and as you learn the game this will become the measure by which you judge your skill at it.

Well said.
 
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Jeff K
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There were a few statements here I would certainly agree with. The more dice you roll, the more things tend to average out. Hence luck plays a smaller factor (outside of possibly that one "crucial" roll). Wargames are simulations, therefore die-rolling serves an important purpose because "The best laid plans...", etc etc. You can't control fate in real life or the battlefield.

OTOH, if luck were such a huge factor, you would expect a rank novice to have some sort of chance to beat even a wily veteran. Have you ever seen this happen? Fat chance (pun intended). Skill, not luck determines the winner of most wargames, like most any other good game.

As for the poster about BaM: you are mistaken. BaM is an excellent simulation. Abstract games often do not have a luck element (or much of one). That makes them no less valid simulations. Perhaps in the day of linear warfare it was true to a greater extent than in later eras: the skill of the field commander determined who carries the day. The emphasis in BaM is on manuever, which was the major determinant in this type of warfare. Manuever does not succumb to luck.
 
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