I was able to get in a play ofUndaunted: North Africa by designer DavidThompson from Osprey Games. RMN T and myself replayed Scenario 1: Landing Ground 7 with him as the LRDG (actually LRP) and myself as the Italians. This time we made sure to play the Recon action correctly; it’s the main action that enables you to discard those pesky Fog of War cards and cycle the useful cards in your deck more efficiently. It was a good fight but he kept his Engineer safe and was able to win after destroying three objectives.
New Arrival –1979: Revolution in Iran by Dan Bullock from The Dietz Foundation via Kickstarter. Let me first join the chorus of voices in congratulating Jim Dietz on one of the best Kickstarter campaign I’ve participated in. Jim communicated often and clearly throughout the process. I don’t know how he did it—in this time of worldwide shipping disruption he delivered a mere ONE MONTH later than the campaign originally advertised. Towards the end of the campaign the near-daily updates unabashedly conveyed his joy that the project was nearing fulfillment and that giddy excitement infected me. When a new game arrives, it usually takes a few days for it to get to the table as it must “wait for a spot” of table space. With 1979 I swept the existing game off the table and unboxed it immediately.
Speaking of shipping, is it just me or has UPS really taken a turn for the worst? Twice this month I’ve had UPS shipments “delayed” by 2-3 days. This is not to say USPS doesn’t have issues too but any delay there seems to be one day at most. I read that USPS was changing their terms of service and to expect slower delivery times but I didn’t read anything about UPS. Even normally reliable Amazon has gone wonky on me recently with one shipment showing up three days late and another showing up but still listed as ‘not delivered’ in my orders record. I guess I can rationalize these delays as part of the overall slowdown in shipping from containers but the UPS issues seem a bit more wrong.
New Arrival – Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021). This is definitely a hobby business history and NOT a history of D&D as a game. So all you Edition Wars fighters out there looking for Jon’s vote need to look elsewhere. I wish Jon would do the history of Marc Miller and Traveller someday. I know, not as dramatic but nonetheless of intense interest to a Traveller RPG fan like me.
The other day I was looking at a new arrival wargame and exploring where on the BoardGameGeek rankings of War Games it sat. In a bit of a careless moment I accidentally hit the “War Game Rank” header and resorted by lowest to highest rankings. I was a bit surprised to see a game I own ranked very near the “top” of the new page. I scrolled down a bit and found a few more. Which got me thinking; do I really have that many turkeys in my wargame collection? Let’s look at my “Bottom Eight” and see what we discover. Why eight? Because, surprisingly, that is the number of titles I have in the last group of 100 BGG ranked War Games 3387-3486.[Edit – I actually have nine but one is not noted as part of my collection though it is].
Let me be clear about something up front. I firmly believe that BoardGameGeek ratings and rankings of wargames are very suspect. I use BGG to manage my collection and not to rank or rate titles. I further believe that in the early days of BGG, and to a lesser extent today, there was/is an anti-wargame bias within the BGG community writ large. I believe this bias derives from early times when BGG postured itself as a Eurogame-centric website and relished in trashing, uh, Ameritrash games. This is despite the fact the BGG glossary goes out of its way to say wargames are NOT Ameritrash, but in a somewhat condescending manner.
In more recent years, “crossover” wargames, or wargames that are recognized as combining Eurogame mechanics with wargame themes—sometimes called a “waro”—have somewhat reduced the bias but at its heart BGG started anti-wargame and remains so. Additionally, the algorithms used to derive BGG ratings and ranking are a trade secret which only serve to further obfuscate just how games are rated and ranked. If there is one thing the past year+ of COVID taught me, and hopefully many others, it’s that statistics are easy to manipulate. Like they say, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Here are the “Bottom Eight” wargames in my collection as ranked by BoardGameGeek (note that this is amongst NUMERICALLY ranked games; there are 104 pages for over 10,000 wargames listed on BGG with the majority having no numerical ranking):
“You mean a war game, like Risk” can barely be applied to this title. Bought for the RockyMountainNavy Boys who were into the IP at the time. They never liked it. Absolutely deserves to be at the bottom.
The market and high levels of abstraction always put me, and apparently many others, off on this game yet somehow it stays dear to my heart. Looking back, I wonder if Supremacy was trying to be a “waro” before people understood what a waro was. I understand that updated versions exist. I often wonder what the game could become if a good developer had worked it, then or even now.
In the past few years I rediscovered this game on my shelf when I went looking for games using the chit pull mechanism. It’s clunky and not-so-elegant but serviceable as a wargame. Part of the low ranking may be subject matter; the Battle of Arakan in Burma is not well known.
Ambitious in that it tries to model 3D flight on a 2D board in increments of mere seconds. Way too complicated a model to easily manipulate. I at least remember playing this one—a battle between two American F-106 Delta Darts and a pair of TU-26 Backfire strategic bombers trying to get to New York. Of course, we now know the Tu-26 never existed for the TU-22 Backfire never was converted to a strategic bomber. It also showed our misunderstanding of how to employ weapon systems as we tried to “dogfight” the bombers vice standing off with those nuclear-tipped missiles and rockets hosing away at the Red intruders. Then again, we kinda realized that those nuke-armed babies were “a bad day” and tried to restrain ourselves.
Yup, restraint in a wargame. Like I said, we kinda didn’t know what we were doing. I remember driving one of the Backfires and desperately dodging the F-106s but ending up low, slow, and vertically banked mere feet off the deck. I almost made it to New York, but ultimately ran out of ideas, airspeed, and altitude short of the target.
Is this a wargame? I bought this for RockyMountainNavy Boy A who was a big HALO fan at the time. I think it got played once. You also needed a DVD player, making this a “media-assisted” game. In the RMN house that made this game difficult to play since the RMN students had TV restrictions on weekdays and limited time on weekends. Altogether not a memorable title.
Not officially listed in my collection though I have a copy. The BGG tagline reads, “Will you conquer the world in this multi-player push-your-luck wargame?” I guess that is one way to look at Risk but when doing so is one unconsciously buying into that BGG anti-Ameritrash heritage?
It took a few extra days but my hardcopy of the Compass Games catalog arrived. Several games are given “provisional” (my term) delivery dates which, alas, all are in 2022 (one actually doesn’t have even a provisional date—which is kinda worrisome). We’ll see how that works out! Now to mark the catalog up with already have, on order, and like to haves.
74 major Titles in catalog
6x Titles of Interest (3 available now)
I really need to be careful and not get too carried away with ordering from Compass right away. I already owe Mrs. RMN (aka “Family Accountant”) an explanation of why GMT Games and Canvas Temple Publishing are charging within days of each other. I also won a local auction for Sekigahara (GMT Games, 2011) that I’m picking up this weekend—only a week after Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) arrived…
Very happy to see Regimental Commander Brant and other members of the Armchair Dragoons at Origins Game Fair this week. Origins started out as a wargame convention and over the years it, uh, changed.
The Dragoons bring wargaming back to the Fair and it’s good to see. Some of the games played included Tank Duel (GMT Games), Second World War at Sea (Avalanche Press), Team COIN, and Command & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games). I am very sad that I missed the Persian Gulf game with the admiraltytrilogy.com folks.
The October Sale from Revolution Games is underway. Great chance to pick up more than a few bargains. Personally I recommend Pacific Fury. If you are willing to purchase folio-packaged games some of the prices are really low and (hopefully) more affordable.
I continued my local acquisitions support program by picking up a copy of Jamie Stegmaier’s Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) from a nearby gamer. Used but in great condition. Will try to get this to the table soon, maybe as the season kickoff for the Weekend Family Game Night Return.
I am subscribed to Geoff Engelstein’s email newsletter, GameTek, which discusses “The Math and Science of Gaming.” GameTek #8 is “What if…?” and talks about counterfactuals. As wargamers, counterfactuals are arguably the foundation of our hobby. Even Geoff takes note of it:
Exploring “What If” is one of the interesting aspects of simulation games. What if the Germans moved their forces from Calais to Normandy before D-Day? What if Stonewall Jackson had survived to be with the Confederate army at Gettysburg? What if the Warsaw Pact had attacked Western Europe?
Geoff goes on to talk about designers who try to “tune” their game designs around the historical result:
When creating a model for a historical event, the most important thing, of course, is to make sure that what happened historically is a possible outcome from the game. If it is impossible to recreate the historical result, the game will be criticized (rightfully, in my opinion).
However, how likely does the historical result need to be?
I haven’t done a scientific survey – I’m not sure anyone has – but anecdotally I think almost all designers tune their models so that the most likely outcome is the historical outcome. You can think of the historical results of a game as creating a bell curve. The peak of this curve could coincide with the historical outcome.
I was very happy to see Geoff acknowledge that the historical result is not always the “norm” but may have been the extreme:
As I mentioned, I’ve been working on a new design, and I’m facing this issue head on. It’s going to be a solitaire-only design, but the more I research and learn about the actual event, the more I am convinced that the historical result was all the way at the tail end of the bell curve. Pretty much everything went right. It’s hard to point to any areas where things could have gone significantly better. Perhaps some of that is due to the nature of the historical record, which only wants to highlight the positive. But even so, I still think that’s the case.
Geoff is discussing here a very important issue for wargame designers—balancing player expectations against historical facts. When playing a wargame, I often know how the battle historically turned out but I want to see what I could do different. To be honest, if I play a wargame and the historical result is most often the “normal” outcome I am more likely to never to pick up that game again as I start to view it as too “rigid” an interpretation of the history. I start to view the design, no matter how “realistic” or well researched, as simulation instead of game—and I want to play wargames not do another simulation run.
Geoff has a good solution for his game, which many a designer should pay attention to:
I am currently leaning towards making the historical result, in game terms, correspond to a very strong victory – something for players to strive for.
However, I need to make sure that this is clear through the design notes. The details of this event are not that well known, so many players will be learning about it for the first time. If I take this route, the history the players experience in the game most likely will not match up with what occurred. I feel a sense of responsibility to make sure the players are properly able to contextualize their in-game experience, and the history surrounding it.
Geoff’s approach probably only applies when the players are expected to learn something about history from the game. This, of course, is an area that wargames excel at. All of which reinforces that every wargame needs some sort of design notes. I grew up wargaming in the 1980’s and 90’s and design notes were standard—today less so. Geoff hits the nail on the head; design notes are ESSENTIAL, “to make sure the players are properly able to contextualize their in-game experience, and the history surrounding it.”
I recently wrote an article for the Armchair Dragoons about The Hunt for Red October (TSR, 1988). One of the points I tried to make but didn’t quite deliver on is the notion that without design notes, The Hunt for Red October had no message. That’s not strictly true—I acknowledge in the article that The Hunt for Red October has much to say but, without design notes, I had to fill in the blanks. To crib off Geoff, without design notes I found it difficult to contextualize my in-game experience. Given that The Hunt for Red October was aimed at the mass market, being able to contextualize The Battle of the Atlantic in a hypothetical World War III might be beyond the goals of the design.
I am hoping that GMT Games finds a way to get the four titles that are at “At the Printer- No Ship Date Yet” moving. The latest update from Gene tells me that Tank Duel Expansion 1: North Africa is in a container somewhere between China and California and will be charging early October. Hopefully this means that backlog will work off over the next few months. I look forward to a regular GMT P500 delivery schedule.
I might also be better informed if I watched the Compass Games Live / Town Hall on YouTube every week but it goes live at an inconvenient time for me to easily catch it. I have five titles on preorder form Compass and, as best I can tell, none are scheduled for delivery through the end of this year (deep sigh).
My lone Multi-Man Publishing title on preorder shows that the preorder goal was passed. I guess that means it is moving forward in production, but when that is remains a mystery to me.
The big boardgame industry news this week is that Asmodee is looking for a buyer...and they want 2 BILLION Euros. This past year+ of COVID certainly has seen the boardgame industry do well, but with the current raw material shortages and shipping challenges is it truly sustainable at those high levels? I almost feel like the VC group that owns Asmodee is trying to take their money and run. Remember, one of the oldest adages in business is“Buyer beware.”
Foundation and Role Playing Games
I rarely watch TV these days, but I did indulge in the first two episodes of Apple TV’s new series, Foundation:
I thought about rereading the books before the series started but I am glad I didn’t as I am looking at the series with (sorta) fresh eyes and just taking it in. I am especially enthralled with the world-building. I read articles about how the producers were trying to establish a look for the series that is neither Star Wars or Star Trek (Warning: Minor spoilers at the link). If I was put on the spot, I would say that there are many elements of Marc Miller’s Third Imperium setting for the Traveller roleplaying game. Or maybe it’s better to say there are many classic space opera elements in the Third Imperium and Foundation is just catching up. I have to admit I also enjoy watching the series with the RockyMountainNavy Boys who have not read the books (I know, Bad Dad!). They are taking it in without any preconceived notions. So far they like it, which is high praise from the hardcore Stars Wars fans they are.
From Foundation to Blade Runner
What’s this? Hot on the heels of ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, Free League has announced publication of Bladerunner: The Roleplaying Game in 2022.
The core game and its line of expansions will push the boundaries of investigative gameplay in tabletop RPGs, giving players a range of tools to solve an array of cases far beyond retiring Replicants. Beyond the core casework, the RPG will both in setting and mechanics showcase key themes of Blade Runner – sci-fi action, corporate intrigue, existential character drama, and moral conflict – that challenge players to question your friends, empathize with your enemies, and explore the poisons and perseverance of hope and humanity during such inhumane times.
Bladerunner: The Roleplaying Game, The Game
Investigative RPG’s are an interesting subgenre of roleplaying games. Some game systems, like Gumshoe from Pelgrane Press, are designed from the ground up for investigations. Other systems rely on a form of “social combat” game mechanism to handle player vs. PC interactions. Indeed, The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin, 2019) has a separate mode of play called Social Encounters that covers investigations. It will be interesting to see how Free League adapts the Year Zero Engine to handle Bladerunner-style investigations.
Although I didn’t totally enjoy ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game I am nonetheless happy to see Free League lean into the 1980’s sci-fi IPs and turn them into RPGs. Philip K. Dick’s short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” was the basis for the movie Bladerunner and is a very deep story. I hope the game does real justice to the IP.
Wargame is a simulated military operation with certain rules, specifications, and procedures, in which soldiers can virtually and indirectly experience the war. The ROK Navy operates the Cheonghae model, a training wargame model for helping commanders and staff master the procedures for conducting the war. It is important for commanders, staff and analysts to know whether a warship can perform its missions and how long it can last during a war. In existing model, the Cheonghae, the probability of kill of a warship is calculated simply considering the number of tonnage without any stochastic elements, and the warship’s mission availability is also determined based on predetermined values. With this model, it is difficult to get a value of the probability of kill that makes sense. In this dissertation, the author has developed a probabilistic model in which the warship vulnerability data of ROK-JMEM can be used. A conceptual model and methodology that can evaluate the mission performance of personnel, equipment, and supplies has been proposed. This can be expanded to a comprehensive assessment of wartime warship loss rates by integrating damage rates for personnel, equipment, and supplies in wartime.
The abstract from the Korean article makes it sound like the original ROKN damage model is quite simple; “In existing model, the Cheonghae, the probability of kill of a warship is calculated simply considering the number of tonnage without any stochastic elements, and the warship’s mission availability is also determined based on predetermined values.“ I find this a bit astonishing because I can’t think of a single commercial tactical naval wargame in my collection where ship damage is solely a function of tonnage. I mean, even my 1975 version of General Quarters (NavWar Productions) or the 1978 edition of Bismarck (Avalon Hill) has hits against different ship components.
The ROKN study goes on to explain a new methodology that is, “…expanded to a comprehensive assessment of wartime warship loss rates by integrating damage rates for personnel, equipment, and supplies in wartime.” While this certainly sounds like a “modern” approach, I have to point out that the damage model in the commercial tabletop wargame Harpoon V already does this through a Critical Hit damage mechanism.
Fortunately for naval wargamers who want to understand the Harpoon V damage model, ATG publishes on their website a series of presentations from various conventions they attend. These presentations provide some insight into their games, with more than a few being game design “peek under the hood” content. This allows us to do a limited comparison between Cheonghae and Harpoon V.
In the mid-2000’s, ATG realized that the various damage calculation methodologies used in their three principle games (Fear God & Dread Nought for World War I, Command at Sea for WWII, and Harpoon for “modern”) were unsynchronized. Thus, they embarked on a “harmonization” process. A major component of the harmonization process was a rebuild of the ship damage model in the game.
At the 2006 Cold Wars convention, ATG designer Chris Carlson presented, “Weapons Effects and Warship Vulnerability” (Cold Wars 2006) where he identified weapons damage effects on warships as one of the biggest issues in the Harmonization Process. The conclusion of his presentation shows where they are going:
Weapon damage effects across the Admiralty Trilogy games are now consistent with basic physical principles
– Convert all damage mechanisms into energy terms
– Use standard explosive theory equations
– Eliminates model distortions (edge effects)
Damage point value changes vary based on weapon type and warhead size
– Torpedoes have the greatest change
– Less so for bombs, shells and missiles
– Smaller warheads become more lethal, very large ones are less
At Cold Wars 2008, Chris made another Admiralty Trilogy Seminar presentation titled, “Variable damage Effects in Naval Wargames” (Cold Wars 2008). This is an excellent review of many popular naval wargame systems and how they model damage. More than a few here use a stochastic model, but it is also interesting to see how many use something more. Again, the conclusion provides great insight into where the ATG designers were going, and maybe also how far ahead of the ROKN:
Damage variability is a high interest item for players
Admiralty Trilogy games don’t use specific hit locations
Warhead performance variability isn’t realistic
Secondary effects the best option for our games
Damage effects are very difficult to model
Significant tension between playability and accuracy
Revised model gives greater variability in fire and flooding critical hits and in the DC [Damage Control] die rolls
Delayed implementation of some critical hit results means ships aren’t instantaneously crippled
Cold Wars 2012 saw another presentation, “Staying Power: Assessing the Damage Capacity of Ships” (Cold Wars 2012). As the presentation says, “Quantifying damage is vexingly complex, and any approach is hard to defend because it is a subjective estimate.” What follows is another review of historical approaches to solving this problem, and how ATG designers are approaching it for their games. Along the way they identify two main models; deterministic and stochastic:
Two main approaches to damage effects modeling:
Deterministic Model: A ship sinks when the cumulative damage exceeds the ship’s life
NWC [Naval War College] Fire & Maneuver Rules and RN [Royal Navy] 1929 Wargame Rules
Combat capability and mobility decreases with damage
Stochastic Model: A ship sinks, not from cumulative damage, but from a catastrophic event, such as a magazine explosion or excessive flooding
U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance developed this model during the war
Striking Power of Air-Borne Weapons Study, ONI, July 1944
Another way to look at it is as a loss of function model
From the limited portions of the Korean study I can read, it sounds like the original ROKN damage model is Deterministic and the goal of the new Cheonghae version is to add Stochastic elements. The ATG approach to damage in their games always has been to create a hybrid. ATG pointed out—back in 2012—that, “Wargaming is best served by a hybrid approach to damage effects (deterministic/stochastic elements).“
What’s Old is New Again
Given that I cannot fully read the new Korean journal report there is a fair chance I am missing something here, but I feel that I’m not far off in saying that Korean modeling & simulation may be a step (or more) behind commercial naval miniatures wargaming. I skimmed the journal article bibliography in the vain hope of seeing some reference to miniatures wargaming but alas, no. I find it a bit ironic that when comparing the damage model in Harpoon V to this Korean study, the Harpoon V model, long begrudged in some wargame circles as “too complex,” is in this case the “simpler” model in that it does not need a computer to run nor overtly resort to all the algebraic functions and the like. If one wants to recreate the math behind the ATG model, you can dig through back issues of ATG’s journal, The Naval SITREP, and find articles that show you the way.
There are some (many?) wargamers out there that proclaim Harpoon V (or any of the ATG games) are more simulation than game. I will rise to the defense of ATG here and say that these complaints have not fallen on deaf ears and the ATG staff makes tremendous efforts to make their games playable. Regardless of what you think about their success in doing so, they should nonetheless be recognized as serious game designers who can really math the wicked problems. One can both play and study with ATG naval miniatures wargames. Both players and researchers could benefit from their work with just a little more attention. Surely, adopting (or even adapting) a commercial-off-the-shelf model is less expensive than all the development work that is going into Cheonghae. More importantly, the ATG staff has worked hard to validate their model—I would like to see what Cheonghae says about many of the same cases ATG modeled. Now that would be a great comparison.
Feature image – Ex-USS Ingraham being sunk a target in Large Scale Exercise (LSE) 21 (courtesy pacom.mil)