Tactical Uncertainty Principle step one

Saturday , 21, March 2015 11 Comments

Just because a number of gamers and game designers have expressed interest in it, I’m going to run through my thinking on the subject in public. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I conclude that this could be the most useful new wargame design mechanic since John Hill introduced the morale model in Squad Leader. Also, I’m not going to concern myself with how to implement the principle in a board-and-counter or tabletop game yet, since my primary interest is developing a model that will work for Striker (3rd edition) in the 3DV engine, which is to say, on the computer in a 3D tabletop. While the principle remains the same in either case, the precise model of optimal application will necessarily differ.

The basic Tactical Uncertainty Principle, which is based on the Clausewitzian concept of friction in the form of information, can be summarized thus:

  1.  Information reported by LOS is unreliable.
  2. The reliability of the information reported depends upon the quality of the unit or leader reporting it.
  3. Units reporting inaccurate information tend to inflate both the quantity and the quality of the enemy units reported.

Today, I will focus on the second aspect of the Principle, which states that the reliability of the information reported about the enemy units spotted depends upon the quality of the unit or leader reporting it. For now, I will utilize the five-level unit-quality system of ASL. Here is how I envision the application in terms of pre-modification statistics, with the number representing the percentage chance that the unit will accurately identify the unit(s) sighted.

Elite 85
Veteran 70
Regular 55
Green 40
Conscript 25

A unit with a leader of differing quality will identify an enemy unit on the basis of the leader’s quality rating rather than its own. A unit with the same quality leader will receive an addition 5 percent identification bonus. So, a Veteran unit with an Elite leader will identify enemy units with an 85 percent success rate, but an Elite unit with an Elite leader will do so at a 90 percent success rate.

In my next post on the subject, I will address what happens when an enemy unit is incorrectly identified.

11 Comments
  • Jack Amok says:

    Three questions:

    Will multiple units with a LOS on the same enemy unit make independant roles and report potentially contradictory information (and is there a clean UI for showing this)?

    How often will units reroll for possible updates?

    Can there be multiple units stacked in a given location and if so, can a unit go entirely unnoticed?

  • castaliahouse says:

    Yes. Yes.

    Don’t know. Probably once per enemy movement turn.

    Not applicable in this application. Striker is a miniatures game.

  • Adam says:

    Would there be a percentage chance for the unit misidentifying the enemy acting independently? For example, a conscript unit misidentifies a small group of enemy Mark IV tanks as a large group of Tigers and subsequently panics and runs. Or an elite unit misidentifies the opposing force as being much weaker than it really is and unwisely attacks.

    This could also have an impact on the leader as per what nationality they were. For example, German small unit commanders were trained to be independent and make independent snap decisions, whereas British ones were not.

  • castaliahouse says:

    That would not be part of the Tactical Uncertainty rules per se. That’s a possible morale-related application of them and will be up to the individual designer.

    For Striker, I think that is unlikely, as it will most likely be getting fired upon that will trigger morale checks. However, the TUP could effect the unit indirectly through the mechanism of a quality-based morale modifier. It is more frightening to be fired upon by an elite unit than by a conscript unit.

  • Jack Amok says:

    Ah, this is Striker as in Traveller? Excellent. Well, let me know when you need playtesters…

  • Tom says:

    See, if this information is known up front to the players when they start the game, I think most of my initial trepidation evaporates.

    As a commander, I would know that I can’t trust my conscripts to tell the difference between a tank and a barn in battle. However, I still have to be aware that even my best units can make mistakes. I think that makes everything much more interesting during the play of the game.

    It isn’t completely random like I thought at first, which is a relief. This TUP makes the gathering of intelligence a more challenging and thought provoking part of the game. Not to mention the huge numbers of historical situations where this very effect swung battles back and forth. I think VD mention Gettysburg and Cemetery Ridge. Then there is Custer ignoring his scouts because he thought they were overestimating the number of Sioux over the hill at Little Bighorn. I guess the list is pretty obvious and long.

  • castaliahouse says:

    See, if this information is known up front to the players when they start the game, I think most of my initial trepidation evaporates.

    I would expect it to be as well-known to the players as the morale model is to an ASL player. The point is not to surprise them with the existence of the mechanic, but the effects of its consequences on gameplay and tactics.

  • Darius says:

    Keep up the posts please…. I don’t have a lot to add, but would love to see what comes of it.

  • Daniel says:

    I know it is still being worked on, but as I envision it on the tabletop, I would anticipate two things:

    1) That there would be no in-game “tell” for when the identification would be recognized as the correct one, with the exception of a certain range (say, 3 hexes or whatever).

    2) That the proper read would cause as much uncertainty as the incorrect one.

    If I were to playtest this I’d run it first as if my reads (good and bad) were accurate and certain. Then I’d run adaptively – modifying plans only as information changed. Finally, I’d run it, anticpating and hedging possible changes.

    The last would be a good test, because one of the things Clausewitz makes clear is that the uncertainty isn’t necessarily one of hesitation (i.e. “What if those tanks aren’t really Tigers?”) but can be one of false certainty – “A-ha! Let’s beat a retreat! Those Tigers outnumber us!”

    It is for reasons of that final point that I might think of not making uncertainty checks automatic by round, but instead costing something and having to be a deliberate act of “unseeing” the deception.

    In other words – those K’Kree are going to look like K’Kree until something active makes the viewer realize it was just Zodani mind tricks…

  • IJ says:

    This reminds me slightly of how the newer FIFA games used their player scouts. The better the scout the more information you knew about the player’s potential and skill. So while this is not necessarily a new concept, it’s definitely a new application and method of applying it.

  • maniacprovost says:

    I can’t comment on the mechanics because I don’t play wargames… But if information is limited, then it’s a resource you have to fight over like everything else. Ideally you need to take intelligence gathering into account as you maneuver, and you need scouts and spies. I know you talked about different types of units at different ranges having different “accuracy” in what they observe.

    But how could you do this on a physical tabletop? Even if you make the units anonymous like Stratego, or in matchboxes, you would still be able to see their location and movement speed, simultaneously I might add.

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