Principles of Tactical Design

Thursday , 19, March 2015 47 Comments

First, I’d like to congratulate CH blogger Ken Burnside, for the success of his AVID Assistant Kickstarter campaign with 24 days to spare. Most game-related Kickstarters fail, so it’s nice to see one of our own completing one successfully. Thanks to all of the CH readers who supported it.

AHOS_256Second, if you subscribe to the Game Dev newsletter, you’re aware that Alpenwolf has a new partner and I’m going to be writing the new rules for a certain SF infantry combat game. Without getting into any details concerning that, I want to discuss two of the primary principles I plan on utilizing as the basis for the core gameplay. I was recently editing a book by Martin van Creveld that we’ll be publishing in another week or so, called A History of Strategy, and one thing that occurred to me while I was working on it and reading his Technology and War, was how the great stress that Clausewitz placed on friction, and in particular, on information in war, was seldom modeled at the tactical level in wargaming. Clausewitz wrote:

A great part of the information in war is contradictory, a still greater part is false, and by far the greatest part is somewhat doubtful. This requires that an officer possess a certain power of discrimination, which only knowledge of men and things and good judgment can give. The law of probability must be his guide. This is difficult even in the pre-war plans, which are made in the study and outside the actual sphere of war. It is enormously more difficult when, in the turmoil of war, one report follows hard upon another. It is fortunate if these reports, in contradicting each other, produce a sort of balance and thus demand further examination. It is much worse for the inexperienced when chance does not render him this service, but one report supports another, confirms it, magnifies it, continually paints with new colors, until urgent necessity forces from him a decision which will soon be disclosed as folly, all these reports having been lies, exaggerations, and errors.

In a few words, most reports are false, and the timidity of men gives fresh force to lies and untruths. As a general rule, everyone is more inclined to believe the bad than the good… The leader, firm in reliance on his own better convictions, must stand fast like the rock on which the wave breaks. The role is not an easy one; he who is not by nature of a buoyant disposition, or has not been trained and his judgment matured by experience in war, may let it be his rule to do violence to his own inner conviction by inclining from the side of fear to the side of hope; only by that means will he be able to preserve a true balance.

This difficulty of seeing things correctly, which is one of the greatest sources of friction in war, makes things appear quite different from what had been expected. The impression of the senses is stronger than the force of ideas resulting from deliberate calculation, and this goes so far that probably no plan of any importance has ever been executed without the commander having to overcome fresh doubts during the first moments of its execution.

Now, Advanced Squad Leader did an excellent job with morale. Previous editions of this particular game manfully attempted to address communications and control, albeit in a clumsy manner that was not very gameplay-friendly. But few, if any, games, have successfully addressed the issue of information in war on the tactical level. What passes for “fog of war” is largely limited to something like the ASL concealment mechanism, in which line-of-sight immediately results in full and correct disclosure of the enemy forces. And while this makes sense in light of the obvious limitations of tabletop gaming, it is somewhat strange that computer wargames have not substantially addressed this issue to the best of my knowledge.

So, my thought is this: what if line-of-sight provided unreliable information in the manner Clausewitz describes? What if one benefit of unit experience was the ability to correctly identify enemy units as well as their quantity? There is ample historical precedent after all. One need only read a history of any post-Normandy WWII battle to realize that American troops were prone to misidentifying almost any German tank as a Tiger.

To most American troops, any big tank trying to kill you was a Tiger. Admittedly, the sloping frontal armour of a King resembled that of a Panther Tiger, but a soldier in trouble doesn’t stop to count the road wheels or turn to his recognition handbook. Similarlly, many Allied memoirs talk of being under fire from ‘eighty-eights’, whereas msot German field and anti-tank guns were of 75mm calibre.
Snow and Steel: Battle of the Bulge 1944-45 by Peter Caddick-Adams

The mechanism is relatively simple to implement. For each unit, there is a short catalog of mistaken quantities and types based on probability. One is much more likely to mistake a 75mm field gun for an 88mm than for a 37mm, after all. It is obvious that troops tend to overestimate their enemies rather than underestimate them, both in terms of quality and quantity, so the tendency should be to err upwards. Both the visual and statistical information reported to the player will be inaccurate, then updated as other units make contact or sustained contact causes the initial units to correct their initial error.

It seems to me that this could be as important an advance in wargaming as the ASL morale model was. So, what do you see as the likely costs and benefits of implementing an Unreliable Information model, or if you prefer, Tactical Uncertainty principle?

47 Comments
  • Eric Ashley says:

    Giant puppets waving signs ‘Bush lied, people died’ but thats at the strategic?? level.

    More seriously, in a campaign with officers being promoted…’Lt. King is a coward. He regularly overestimates. Don’t promote him.’

    A severe overestimation of forces in one area may prompt the question ‘Where is the rest?’ which might prompt a morale check, or the officerly equivalent where he bites his fingers unable to come to a decision.

  • Student in Blue says:

    Hmm. I wish to opine on this, but I’m not too familiar with ASL. Is unit experience something that is already tracked, or would that have to be a new system as well?

  • Student in Blue says:

    To clarify and update, I read up a bit on ELR but I’m not sure if that would be suitable for reliability of information. It seems to be doing quite a bit of work already, and tacking on another system onto that stat as well would inflate its importance even more.

  • Tom says:

    It seems like an definite increase in similarity to real war, but a very frustrating aspect of a game. If I see something on a screen, I expect it to be what it looks like it is. Are you thinking of having inaccurate groups of miniatures that change composition and number as more friendly units come into line of sight or get closer?

    It seems to be a weird effect to pull off in a situation where the commander is actually “seeing” the units. Sure, on a map that is updating with symbols and numbers, it wouldn’t be that weird. But, if one of those groups of goblins in that last picture from Game Dev 2 suddenly popped into orcs right before my eyes, I’d be ticked off in the extreme as a player.

    Are you going to factor in the uncertainty of where your own units are? Are players going to give units orders to go some place and are they going to run the risk of getting lost along the way and not actually being where you put them? That seems to be a similar sort of factor. Are the results of combats going to be uncertain for a certain amount of time? Like will it appear that you are losing when all of a sudden it will turn out that your commander was just over reporting the loses out of pessimism and you’ve actually won?

    All that said, card games like Hearts, Spades, Bridge, and even Magic rely on the ambiguity of what is in the other players’ hands, and they are quite fun as games. Maybe it is just my personal dislike of uncertainty coloring my view of it.

  • jayb says:

    When rolling to hit, how would those calculations be done without giving away more information? Or would it be natural to use shots fired as a means of clarifying the enemy unit’s details?

  • castaliahouse says:

    Are you thinking of having inaccurate groups of miniatures that change composition and number as more friendly units come into line of sight or get closer?

    Yes.

    It seems to be a weird effect to pull off in a situation where the commander is actually “seeing” the units.

    Why would the commander see any more accurately than anyone else? Indeed, Clausewitz specifically addresses that, and talks about how the better officers conquer their fear of the fog and stick to their plans.

    Are you going to factor in the uncertainty of where your own units are? Are players going to give units orders to go some place and are they going to run the risk of getting lost along the way and not actually being where you put them? That seems to be a similar sort of factor.

    That is command-and-control and it is a separate factor. I think it would be a mistake to go too far in that direction, although it might be nice to have the rules in place for it.

    If one of those groups of goblins in that last picture from Game Dev 2 suddenly popped into orcs right before my eyes, I’d be ticked off in the extreme as a player.

    I think it would be amazing. Especially since you can incorporate it into the magical system as well. But I have no doubt that doing something new like a Tactical Uncertainty Principle will not prove equally popular with everyone. Especially with the control freaks.

    But the primary benefit, in my opinion, is the way it will make elite troops and commanders truly valuable without making them superheroes.

  • Will says:

    An excellent use of computing power to add to game mechanics instead of graphics. My comment would be that this system would be more interesting gameplay-wise if differing units and armies had different obfuscation factors, i.e. magic loving elves can magically conceal units (perhaps giving no information at all besides position), or have a more intimidating army more consistently appear bigger. The uncertainty opens up more mind games possibilities and rewards knowing both your army and the match ups with other armies. But perhaps you already had this in mind.

  • castaliahouse says:

    When rolling to hit, how would those calculations be done without giving away more information? Or would it be natural to use shots fired as a means of clarifying the enemy unit’s details?

    That’s the challenge on the paper side. It’s a piece of cake on the computer side. Shots fired would be one means, yes.

  • Don says:

    So is this for simulating miniatures on the computer or for table top play?

  • If you are going to do this, it probably makes sense to let the player have some control over it. One option would be something like scout units that can be used to refine information. Another would be to allow something like a probing attack, that weakens your unit slightly and gives the enemy some information about your presence and strength, but also refines the accuracy of your own information. A final option would be to allow players to assign commanders with different capabilities: one of the dimensions along which their capability varies would be accuracy of assessment of conditions they encounter and/or effectiveness at communicating it. All three of these allow the player to make trade-offs so when they do get jobbed with bad info, they can see it as a consequence of a choice they made themselves.

  • Brad Andrews says:

    Calling those who want a fun game “control freaks” is not productive. I will judge how it works when I see it, but having units drastically transform when they are closer does not seem enjoyable.

    I play games to both stimulate my mind and have fun. Make it mere mental stimulation and it is not likely to happen.

  • Athor Pel says:

    From a pure gameplay perspective a sure way to piss off the average game player is to have the interface not be reliable. Having the interface lie to him, bad ju ju. Because that’s likely how the average player is going to interpret what is going on.

    I can just hear the aspie wailing and gnashing of teeth on the game forums. It would sound like, “Binary thinkers rally round, this game is buggy, buggy, buggy. My perfect plans were thwarted by game breaking graphics bugs. Waaaah.”

    I’m not saying it’s not a great idea if the intention is to model the fog of war in a meaningful way. I’m saying that only the hardcore will understand and relish the need for the mental dissonance it creates. But the system better manage the outcome probabilities because getting beat by the odds over and over and over is not fun game play, the player needs some instances of things breaking his way, even if it’s the game itself forcing the break. But then I’m reminded of FTL, for some reason a great many players love being beat by it.

  • castaliahouse says:

    Calling those who want a fun game “control freaks” is not productive.

    Why do you think only control freaks want a fun game? What else would you call someone who insists that a game cannot be fun unless he possesses complete and perfect information about all units at all times? There is nothing wrong with that, but it seems an apt description, if there are actually any players like that.

    I will judge how it works when I see it, but having units drastically transform when they are closer does not seem enjoyable.

    I think that is the right perspective. And you may be correct, perhaps it won’t be. On the other hand, if we simply do what every other game before has done, we will never discover any new and entertaining gameplay mechanics.

    But the cardgame analogy is a good one. Would poker be more fun or less fun if you played with everyone’s cards face up? If poker is fun, then why wouldn’t some element of bluffing and uncertainty also be fun in tactical wargames?

    One of my favorite games of ASL revolved around an insanely risky use of Hidden Initial Placement. That was a lot of fun.

  • castaliahouse says:

    But the system better manage the outcome probabilities because getting beat by the odds over and over and over is not fun game play, the player needs some instances of things breaking his way, even if it’s the game itself forcing the break.

    This is not a computer game. It is a 3D tabletop. If the breaks are not going one player’s way, they are going the other player’s way. We will have a stretch goal to permit the development of an AI and single-player gameplay, but it is a relatively high one. It’s certainly not the focus.

  • castaliahouse says:

    So is this for simulating miniatures on the computer or for table top play?

    Both.

  • Eric Ashley says:

    If I was doing this, I’d KISS, and focus in on the one thing as the dominant or only mechanic in play. Some sort of Eurogames thing. That would appease the aspies, and might break it out more popularly. But, I’m a settings designer on occasion, and not a systems designer.

  • Thucydides says:

    Rather than have units magically “transform” it would be better and more realistic to obscure them , like an out of focus picture, until more information comes in (i.e. a scout is close enough, or you use spec fire and realize what you just hit)

    The other thing to think about is the commander never actually “sees” the entirety of the battlespace. Even a modern commander in front of the map table and surrounded by computer screens cannot see and process all the information at once (and the information on one screen may change while he is looking at another). For pre radio and technological era games, the commander should be able to stand on a hill and see what is in line of sight, but must interpret information the couriers bring him (and even on his hill, he will only have certainty about what is closest and in focus).

    Another way to simulate this is unreliable reporting. The player sees movement and asks “What’s that?” to which a panic stricken subunit replies “A Tiger tank!” Now it is up to the player to determine how they want to react, and the game proceeds from the players actions at that point.

    This is easy once someone points this out, and I am surprised that no one seems to have thought of this earlier (yes, myself included).

  • Tom says:

    The more I thought about this, the more interesting it became. There was a game I played back in the late 90’s called Total Annihilation.

    In multiplayer, there wasn’t any actual feature that caused “fog of war” except that you couldn’t see any units outside the line of sight of your units. BUT, the game did have an incredible effect of “fog of war” that was absolutely incredible and effective. Your view was limited and you couldn’t zoom out to see more at any one time. You had to scroll around and look at the enemy units and see what they were. Were there planes coming or tanks? You had to divide your time and attention between prepping a base and seeing what was coming. It was all real time, and that was what made it so close to “fog of war.”

    You would send in some fake out units in the front of a main force of other units. Or, you would cluster up your air craft (because they could occupy the same space unlike ground units) before you crossed into the other guy’s radar coverage so they couldn’t see how many you had. Also, you might try to snipe or assassinate their radars with a ground force before ever sending your planes.

    That game was absolutely terrifically fun, but I understood going in that those effects were possible in any given game.

    If I know the uncertainty is there, then that is perhaps a very different game than I expect. I guess the idea of a miniatures tactical war game is one where I see all the pieces and I’m slowly moving them around turn by turn, trying gain advantages I understand when I see them.

    Another analogy that comes to mind is “Stratego!” That is an awesome game that my wife and I have loved to play against each other. You know someone has a piece coming toward you, and you don’t know whether its a 8 or a 1. That uncertainty is absolutely fun.

    If it is just assumed that the first contact may or may not reveal true information about the enemy units, that might be sufficient. I’m tempted to suggested the fuzzy or haze graphical signal that visually indicate the units have only been id’ed at range or by one unit. But, I haven’t ever seen that look like anything but ugly and bad on a computer screen.

    Anybody think of a positive example of a visual signal that information may or may not be accurate?

  • castaliahouse says:

    Rather than have units magically “transform” it would be better and more realistic to obscure them , like an out of focus picture, until more information comes in (i.e. a scout is close enough, or you use spec fire and realize what you just hit)

    That’s neither better nor realistic in my opinion. The entire point of what Clausewitz is saying, which is supported by several hundred years of battlefield descriptions, is that the perceptions of the enemy are false.

    The “concealment” model is partially wrong. There is a point at which the enemy is unknown. But after that, there is often a period where the enemy is falsely identified in terms of quality and quantity.

    Consider the second day of Gettysburg. Had the Confederates known that only the 1st Minnesota was holding Cemetery Ridge, they would likely have reinforced the attack and taken it. But they assumed there were more troops defending it than there in fact were.

  • castaliahouse says:

    The more I thought about this, the more interesting it became. There was a game I played back in the late 90’s called Total Annihilation.

    TA is a good game. Chris is an old friend of mine. I’ve known him for over 20 years.

  • randy m says:

    If you have the units transform, the effect is to frustrate new player one, then they lean to disregard it. It feels more like a trick than a mechanic. Having it either indistinct , or represented by a general symbol that could stand for a category of unit types than revealed after successive combats will simulate a fog of war without generating frustration for new players but with the same effect for veterans. After all, poker card s don’t have random faces printed on the backs, they are simply obscured. Have a mouse over tool tip say “Your scouts believe this to be a veteran heavy footman unit.”

  • Caedryn says:

    I’m curious about the physical implementation of the system. I can’t think of how to do the probability with blind choice on a per weapon without without needing to refer to a manual for probability tables or needing to randomize roll results at the beginning of a game on a per player basis. I’m most likely forgetting something, but I’m not well based in board game mechanics.

    I think the other major problem in a physical realm would be needing to run the calculations for each unit in LOS could be very time consuming, so it would work well for small piece engagements or aggregated colums, but it would be very long for mixed squad engagements. I do like the addition to mechanics of the value of intel as a real board cost, rather than just players ability to memorize information.

  • trev006 says:

    If you want to make a game about imperfect information, please give this link a try:

    http://scientificgamer.com/thoughts-ruse/

    It contains a number of thoughts about line of sight and how using intelligent unit placement can be of benefit to your game. The review also contains a number of thoughts about what DIDN’T work well in Ruse, including and especially its lackluster market performance.

    It’s not a bad idea and I certainly wish you success. How about a notion of los depending on specialty? Aircraft get huge los but can only really tell you the unit type, while infantry get very short los but can tell you the exact type of unit, right down to its current damage. Vehicles will be all over the place in “perception rating,” and you can have special units like spy planes.

    I think this would definitely work out as a multiplayer computer game (seriously, don’t even try for AI here, it will only be a monumental resource drain), and am interested to hear how it goes!

  • WaterBoy says:

    So, what do you see as the likely costs and benefits of implementing an Unreliable Information model, or if you prefer, Tactical Uncertainty principle?

    Costs
    – Simplicity: No matter how integrated such an element is, it does introduce another level of complexity. The concept would have to be easily understood by beginning players, along with explanations of how they can implement/counter it in games terms.
    – Fairness: As others have already noted, a “Ta-Da” moment when everything finally crystallizes may be perceived as too much of a Gotcha! mechanism favoring more experienced players. This may in fact be a feature rather than a bug, but the perception will persist nonetheless. One option to minimize this might be to introduce a sliding scale such as a Reliability rating to the enemy units in question based on scouting reports, intel, and previous interactions with one’s own units. A 0% rating would mean nothing is known for certain beyond its mere existence, while a 100% rating would mean there are no hidden surprises related to size, strength, etc. No player can then complain about a sudden Gotcha! after charging blindly into a squad of elite units when they knew virtually nothing about them beforehand. This rating could even be displayed as applied to the numbers, say that the opposing unit has 90-110 elements based on a 90% Reliability Factor and a 100 actual force number.

    Benefits
    – Realism: It increases the realism associated with the game; a purely aesthetic virtue, yet still desireable on its own.
    – Tactical advantage: By introducing another game mechanic that the player can utilize, it makes the game more interesting. One of the appeals of the Magic: the Gathering game mentiond above is the variety of mechanics which players can exploit in creating their decks. If they can use the Fog of War mechanic to obfuscate the actual range of their Elven Archers, for example, it makes for a far more interesting game than one in which such a range is known by the opposing player in advance and which can then be countered through ones own maneuvering.

    I would favor such a mechanic being included, but as an option that can be enabled or disabled as necessary. With it turned on, you have the Reliability Factor to account for; with it turned off, WYSIWYG.

  • WaterBoy says:

    I should clarify that applying a Fog of War mechanic to the Elven Archers example was within this game, not the M:tG game.

  • castaliahouse says:

    I find it interesting that so many seem to envision a situation that is precisely the opposite of the military norm. Troops and commanders habitually OVERESTIMATE the strength and quality of enemy forces.

    You’re much more likely to voluntarily refrain from attacking a weaker unit than find yourself blitzed by a weak unit that transforms into a stronger one. Although, obviously this creates some interesting possibilities when magic comes into play.

    • Jnpw says:

      I think most people’s concept of strategy is fundamentally based upon games with highly confined rule sets and limited variables (like chess). That is why they react with incredulity when you propose to add a facet which is a radical departure from that norm.

      Estimation and planning in typical information generous rule bound settings is grounded in having completely accurate information. A chess puzzle with fog of war or pawns disguised as rooks would be rather difficult. Said confinement also allows social analysis of your opponent to be an effective means of attaining victory, rather than having both that, the general tactical situation, and unknown hostile assets to worry about. Most developers probably gravitate towards this because it is easier for consumers to relate to.

      • WaterBoy says:

        A chess puzzle with fog of war or pawns disguised as rooks would be rather difficult.

        ‘Twould be something akin to Stratego, then.

        • Jnpw says:

          I have never had a chance to play that game. If information plays a pivotal role there than perhaps there exists a precedent for successfully introducing it into other strategy titles. The idea presented in the blog post could yield interesting results if it can be implemented properly.

          • WaterBoy says:

            Information is crucial to playing Stratego.

            It is similar to chess in that it is played on a gridded board with pieces of varying rank, and battles occur piece-on-piece. However, it isn’t the case where a head-to-head battle is determined by reverse precedence of occupation on a space; rather, by inverse rank (generally, lower takes higher).

            But since the pieces all look alike from the back (which is the side presented to the opponent at all times), you do not know which rank any particular piece has until you actually attack it or it attacks one of yours and its rank is revealed.

            Even then, it is possible to shuffle your pieces around so as to cause your opponent to lose track of a given piece, thereby reducing the reliability of the information associated with it (“I think that one was a Colonel, but I’m not so sure now.”)

      • WaterBoy says:

        Hmmm…just discovered two chess variants that do limit information: Kriegspiel and Dark Chess

        You are right, too — definitely far more difficult under these conditions than normal chess.

  • Caedryn says:

    It’s not a bad idea and I certainly wish you success. How about a notion of los depending on specialty? Aircraft get huge los but can only really tell you the unit type, while infantry get very short los but can tell you the exact type of unit, right down to its current damage. Vehicles will be all over the place in “perception rating,” and you can have special units like spy planes.

    Interesting, I like the idea of a perception rating for accurately seeing various stats, you could even have distance and veterancy modifiers, the major question of balance in that is how would you present probabilities without giving away the answer through pattern recognition over multiple games or campaigns?

  • trev006 says:

    It depends Caedryn: how badly do you want to keep the probabilities outside player knowledge? In most competitive computer games liks Starcraft, players will either unlock the files, use constant experimentation to get a head for unit values, or simply find a game that meets their expectations for well-balanced understandable play. I think the best way is to have each unit’s perception rating dependent on a number range, with the specific value fluctuating at different times. If you have a few units at any one time, this number might be calculated independently every few seconds within the range. If you have lots of units, maybe calculate it for all of a given unit make (Eg. all T-82 tank destroyers, M4 Shermans, etc.) Not the most elegant solution, but it gets the job done.

  • Tom says:

    “TA is a good game. Chris is an old friend of mine. I’ve known him for over 20 years.”

    I wish his TA: Kingdoms had worked out better (if he was still involved at that point). I drooled at the thought of a sword and sorcery version of Total Annihilation, then it seemed to poof away on arrival.

    The more I think about this mechanic, the more I like it. Though it seems like it might be tough to pull off in real life with limited sets of actual miniatures to stand in for misidentified units. I mean, if I’ve got the physical miniatures, aren’t I probably using them in the battle?

    How does the mechanic work in physical space? A stack of cards that the player who owns the spotted unit draws? It might have -2 through +5 units and -1 through +2 class or quality and maybe a wild card for complete misidentification of cavalry as infantry or vice versa?

    Heck, you could just build it as some little symbols on some other combat event related cards. Circles along the margin telling the spotted player what modifications to do to the actual collection of units. Just draw and discard the top card. If there are any super special event cards in the deck, that could screw things up though, if someone is waiting for a particular card, but it is drawn on an intel check….

  • Adam says:

    I think it’s an excellent idea. The type of players that would whine and cry about this feature would not be your target audience anyway. You could also take it to the next level – allowing the player to fake unit strength to confuse the enemy. Dummy tanks made out of plywood, recorded noise of tank movement in the night, etc. There are so many examples of this from real war. Just D-Day alone had toy soldiers being parachuted in with firecrackers attached to them, not to mention Patton’s completely fictitious division all ready to invade in Operation Fortitude.

  • Astrosorceror says:

    Here is something I’ve not seen in a strategy game: the effects of time and delay.

    How long does it take for the reported sighting to make it to command? How long does it take for orders to be relayed to the fighting men?

    In a world of radio, it’s pretty fast, of course. But what about where runners and relays carry orders, and signal corps use flags and line of sight?

  • OldFan says:

    You have just hit the fundamental difference between games and battlefield reality (other than all those damned straps you wear!): perfect intelligence on the enemy AND your own guys.

    The addition of Blue Force Tracker to the U.S.inventory was a major tectonic shift in command and control: 80% of my conversations on the net used to be “where are you and what are you doing?”

    But what about the foe?

    Perhaps the solution is only to display units moving in the open, adjacent units and the general weapons signature (e.g. “4 Heavy Cannon”, or “2 Automatic Weapons”) of anybody firing.

  • Jack Amok says:

    It is enormously more difficult when, in the turmoil of war, one report follows hard upon another.

    Being true to Clausewitz here would imply that there wasn’t a single “current best estimate” of an enemy unit, but rather (potentially) several estimates from different soruces that may or may not contradict one another.

    Regarding the fun factor, the critical thing is to make the uncertainty something more than just a random dice roll the player either wins or loses. it has to be a decsion and action point for the player. Can a better player make more sense of the confused reports? If a player gets burned by bad intel, is there something actionable he can learn from it to use in the next game? With experience, can he increase his skill at operating amid the uncertainty, or will it always just be the RNG gods toying with him?

    The more it’s just RNG, the less impact it should have (it becomes mostly flavor and atmosphere). But the more of a learnable skill it is, the bigger the impact it can have.

  • Darius says:

    Of the war-games I’d played, the only one that had this “friction” element built in was the Card-command system used for Command and Colors. It certainly simulated in an abstract way the difficulty of getting an idea where your troops were, getting messengers out, getting reports, etc. by giving you a limited number of options you could take at any time.

    Hadn’t really worked with Squad leader or ASL, so I can’t comment there.

    It’s worth noting that while I’ve only run through it solo to learn the mechanics, Fifth Frontier War also had an interesting mechanic for friction and delay of orders based on current information via pre-plotted turns.

  • Daniel says:

    Absolutely fascinating discussion.

    My biggest gripe with tabletop is – and always has been – perfect knowledge (or at best, perfect knowledge after an enemy is revealed.)

    This is very much related to my biggest gripe with computer games: predictable AI.

    Anything you can do to obscure and cheat in favor of my enemy is welcome. Not just welcome – I see it as a Godsend. I don’t care if I’m playing h2h or vs. AI – if the game can misrepresent my enemy, I have one word for you:

    Amen.

    I would die laughing if I committed my most destructive troops, downhill against what I thought were the enemies elites, only to discover they were scarecrows, too late.

    The resistance is remarkably familiar – I remember my friends wanting to ignore morale in games because it messed with their plans.

    These aren’t planning simulators. They are games. If you can make them harder, more surprising, and more fun in one swoop, do it to the nines.

  • Ha! I JUST finished playing through a few battles in “Rome: Total War” (lost..three? Maybe four? And won one, thank you. I’m still learning the game and am happy with that final victory).

    It’s true, the “fog of war” is almost ludicrously absent in that game, which has really fun battles anyway. But a good example of how absent that mechanic is are the times your enemy tries to “hide” in the woods. It’s totally absurd – all I need to do is pause often and pan around and the hiding spot is made moot.

    And in the last battle I fought, which I won – The general, when the battle starts, is far away from the rest of the troops on the other side of the map. Naturally I ran a couple of cavalry units over as fast as possible, held off the assault on my general’s bodyguard, and then as a result was able to use that group to get behind enemy lines and create serious havoc.

    Fun as it was – and it was a lot of fun – it makes no sense that my cavalry units would even know my general was there. It made no sense.

  • jayb says:

    Can I just add +1 to the idea of a % indicator to the player indicating how accurate the commander’s assessment has become. I think players need feedback to see the benefits of their units’ skills and progress.

    A possible concern would be once the unit disappears from view. When it returns, will it be 100% recognised? In theory, recognition should still be uncertain because the opposing commander doesn’t know if the unit’s size or strength has changed. Furthermore, if another unit entered the FOV at roughly the same location, then the opposing commander might assume it to be the previous unit. Resolving that one seems like ‘fun’.

  • Ridip says:

    It’s been a while, but in Leviathans there are giant zeppelins which can fire torpedoes. When you are firing them you place a number of chits face down. They come in matched pairs, one goes at the release point, the other at the maximum target range. After the other player moves attempting to avoid them, they come into effect. The dice are rolled and you flip over the chits revealing which source and target chits match up and the path of the torpedo.

    Now lets say you extend the idea and you laid out more chits than you had torps or launchers. You could roll the dice for all and only reveal those which actually might make contact. The others are simply removed from play. The player being attacked would never need to know how many actual torps there were only how many it appeared there could be.

    The dice could be thrown behind a blind which would only be lifted so the target can see them when you have a hit using a real unit. Otherwise, they would not have to know whether you missed or it wasn’t as it appeared.

    This could be extended to units, fielding more than there really are actual. Or fielding them with power indicators which may overstate their actual power, while under the unit is the real information. Alas, I had a more detailed version of this worked out yesterday which could work, but it’s slipped my mind at present.

  • Klar says:

    The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it’s an essential component of war and has been in one way or another forever.

    During the War of 1812, the British were vastly outnumbered on the Canadian side of the Niagara River and had to have their troops doubling back in order that the pathway visible to the Americans showed a continuous column of soldiers for hours.

    During WWII, German Panthers were disguised as American M10s.

    And on and on such tricks have always been used. Within a game, it’s just a matter of the mechanics used so that all such tactics are dealt with in a simplified manner without requiring the player to get bogged down with too much minutia.

    In a space game, for instance, it would be appropriate to have various levels for a communications officer or the scanner quality you could mount or afford.

    It does change the whole dynamics and for the better, adding a vital dimension to the whole game and also giving that very important ‘last trick up the sleeve’ ability to an underdog without having to use excessive chance or RNG dependency.

    Yup – definitely would add to both the tactical and strategic elements of the game.

  • Random says:

    Star Fleet Battles has a set of optional rules for fog of war at extreme ranges (several maps, longer than most engagements).

    Another similar element in SFB was the “Q-Ship” or an armed freighter disguised as a normal one, which the other player wouldn’t know about until it used a “hidden” weapon!

  • Rindis says:

    “If poker is fun, then why wouldn’t some element of bluffing and uncertainty also be fun in tactical wargames?”

    You may wish to consider that the starting axiom for some people is, “Poker is not fun.”

    As to unreliable unit information, I wish I could remember which solo game it was (I think it may be Ambush!, but I also think that is wrong) where every German tank literally is a Tiger I until proven otherwise. i.e., you find a German vehicle, and it acts as a Tiger until you can positively ID as a Tiger or not….

    As for uncertainty in ASL, I think you play it down a little too much. A few extra concealment counters in an OB can have a profound effect on the actions of the opposing player. Even better, the night rules add a lot of tactical uncertainty, with the extra HIP, generous amount of of extra ‘?’, and of course the use of “Cloaking” for the attacker, which act differently than mere “concealed” units.

    There is a real problem that information only grows more certain as the game proceeds. The real problem with managing information is that there is still only one viewpoint for the entire side. Information can only get better, as more and more unreliable information is thrown out in favor of better information. In an actual fight, this may happen at the higher level, but is less likely to filter back down to the front-line units in a hurry (and in a game, with one person moving around all those units, it effectively happens instantly).

    This isn’t to say trying this effort is useless, just beware of doing it purely for ‘realism’ reasons, because it will still have natural limits there.

    Combining an increasing information mechanic with a decreasing control mechanic (something like Fields of Fire) may produce interesting tension in a design.

  • stryker says:

    I’ve played a bunch of Ah games. In flat top you could lie about the size of your force in spotting. I don’t remember the combat mechanics, but I think they may have been wry independent. What I really like is the idea that if your reports show 75percent of the enemy, you may be seeing only half.

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