Wargame Thoughts and Commentary
Game Design

The Die Fighting II Video Shoot




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Well, the day finally arrived and The 7:30 AM until 5:30 PM shoot of the video was done! This was followed by a pizza, beer, and wine at a wrap party and discussions that lasted until after 10 PM!

It all went very well, I was very pleased at the excellent on-camera abilities of the DF2 team to explain the rules and show by example exactly how they work.

This has been a very interesting project as it really isn’t simply a video presentation of a game, but, rather a video instruction format, where a step by step explanation of Die Fighting II is done by slide, still photo, and video clips of show and tell. In addition to a video that will run about an hour and will have a menu with topic points for quick reference, the disk will contain a Keynote/Powerpoint slide presentation that presents the main rules in the same sequence as the video. There will be Pdf’s included on the DVD that summarize the rules, provide-ready to print cards, a 2 page rule summary and major tables sheet, an example of the OOB sheet/roster, Six period specific rule templates with any tables peculiar to that period, and a separate Free (Green) Dice Table-all printable. In addition, there will be a READ ME! sheet advising how to best use the DVD and ancillary materials and some advice on printing the materials, buying dice, and any other materials needed to play. Finally, there will be a designer’s notes sheet that will summarize the design philosophy, key changes from Die Fighting, and try to answer the why’s and wherefore of the rules.

This is a VERY different set of rules, and a VERY different way of publishing them. I will be posting more information both here and on theYahoo! site (which you can access from the home page screen of the Repique rules site by hitting the Yahoo site button) as the edit proceeds.


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I especially want to thank the “Guys in the Band” who put up with the grind of production and kept such high spirits and good attitudes throughout the nearly nine hours of shooting video, and even better spirits (of many kinds) after the work was done and conversations went on into the night. “They were ready for their close-ups!” After the Getzcon of last year, perhaps this is becoming the TED conference of Wargaming!

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The Usual Suspects:

LtoR.: Chris Caudill, John Mumby, Freddie Avner, Adolfo Laurenti, Iain Black, Terry Shockey, Ed Meyers, Greg Rold, and Bob Jones. After a long day of production and discussion!

The Development of Wargames and DF II!


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My first rule set “La Guerre” circa 1972

I saw a recent thread on TMP about how often people want a new edition of the game. One of the largest groups of gamers stated, “Never.” They wanted the game to never change, require no future development, and to,” Just make it perfect from the beginning.”

I laughed a bit on reading that, as nothing could be farther from my own feelings on the subject. To be sure you wanted a good initial product, one that provided some fresh ideas, and with a little effort from the gamer produce a fun game, but then I thought back on my own experiences.

When I design games, I am looking for fresh ways to get at various historical issues on the table top that offer original and different approaches to history and game play. I want gamers to experience something new; something challenging; and something that is not just warmed over left-overs from past game designers and rules.

So many new sets of historical miniature rules are very, very derivative, and seem almost fossilized remnants of games from years ago. If that is what a designer wants to do, and if that’s what you as a gamer want-then, yes, you should expect a nearly perfect and unchanging set, because, in a sense, they have been written and rewritten many times before.

I must admit if I see a new set of rules and , upon glancing into them, I see a fixed turn sequence, roll a six hits, saving throws, fixed move distances, troop point values, and pages of army lists-I put them down and move on. Nothing new here! They may be perfectly good rules, and enjoyed by some gamers, they just aren’t going to provide me with anything novel or surprising. I can assume that, within their well-established patterns, they will play reasonably well, but will they lead to many new ideas? Doubtful.


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The many faces of Piquet. Over 20 variants, spin-offs, and descendants

All of the rules I have written in the last 20 years have had a rather different development from that. In the case of Piquet, I brought the rules out after about three years of play and testing. In their use of a variable card sequencing deck, sliding polyhedral dice (d8-D10-D-4 etc.) and the constant threat of unequal opportunity for each gamer they ere very different. So different I created a video to actually demonstrate a turn. (that didn’t prevent one player from using all the cards in one deck!!!) It raised some very strong objections to the design, and some equally strong proponents.

Moreover, it wasn’t even hot off the press before my group and many customer’s groups began to play with changing some of the rules. I encouraged this and even described the rules as a toolbox to be tinkered with and adapted to one’s own tastes and preferences.

Piquet begged to be tinkered with and embraced attempts to experiment with unusual cards, new initiative dice roll systems, and all sorts of modified ways to use the combat dice. It was this environment that lead to Piquet II a mere three years after the original publication. I sold Piquet to Brent Oman in 2000, but the experimentation and tinkering continued among a growing group of gamers, and eventually Brent’s original take in FOB and FOBII grew out of those experiments and further development. In a sense the lineage of Piquet and its development led to at least four permutations and constant growth over 20 years.

Rondel and Rules
Zouave I and II 2010 and 2011

Zouave was my first attempt after returning from a hiatus from gaming, and there too, I tried to create an original way to get at grand tactical level miniature wargaming. In that design I deliberately tried to create a large scale game for the period 1861-1871 that handled operational and divisional gaming without losing the tactical elements. It was developed over a two year period and released in 2010. But here again, the game was not a frozen formula that was forever trapped in its initial form. Within a year I had run across Rondels which quite elegantly replaced a system of coins used in Zouave to track order states. One use of the rondel resulted in such a better design that I immediately brought out Zouave II in mid- 2011. I simply could not let a superior system not become the standard for the game.

Now, I bought back all unsold Zouave from my distributors at some noticeable loss to me, and offered the previous Zouave purchasers a discount on the new edition. Those that had the initial edition still possessed a good ruleset that we had played for nearly three years prior to the Rondel change. This was an extreme case of rapid development to a second edition but I never regretted it.

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Die Fighting 2011

Die Fighting has taken an even better course. It was, as Piquet, a very different approach to the tactical miniature wargame. It incorporated variable sequencing with a number of variant sequences listed in the rules, It made almost every action on the tabletop; movement, combat, and command a variable that could not be predicted or be totally assured. It simplified the die types to a standard D6, but used them in very unique ways; the primary one being that certain dice, the red resource dice, were used up and when gone-you lost! This linked capability with combat losses and ultimately army morale with one single united device a red die! It even had a proposed scoring
system!

We played Die Fighting for over two years before its 2011publication, and now we have played an average of 9-12 games a year for the last three years. In that time, we, again, have experimented and tried several ideas and new approaches that over this period have changed the game and provided a lot of new, and better, game mechanisms.

This period has seen the introduction of an additional die, the Black Die, that allows an improved combat and battle loss effect on movement and rally. The creation of the multiple bucket concepts that allows DFII to be a great multi-player game with immense convention play possibilities. The marvelous additional dimensions given to officers and their profiles. Numerous small adjustments to the period rules and tables, and fleshing out of a few rules, and the elimination of a few that simply didn’t work as well as the new systems.

Black DiceMulti-bucketBoufflers, Berwick


Most of all the new sequencing system was the last element needed before I knew a new edition was needed. All the older systems could be used, but I have become very fond of our latest way to use time in the wargame. The time has come for a new edition!

However, I am not planning to do another print edition, nor am I planning some iPad e-book, which I looked into closely. This time I want something that gets Repiquerules into the digital age, avoids the limitations of printed edition both in size and utility, booklet storage demands, and shipping costs that increase on constant basis. I am actually going to return to my roots as a TV producer and crank out the first VIDEO historical miniature rule book. This product will be done in a very unique and different style. It will play on any DVD or computer device, and will allow a full color, full sound, professional “How-to” on how to play Die Fighting II.

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Every rule will be shown step by step in a game example. All tables and a few summaries will be in full color for you to print and use.

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Think about all the war-games you ever played and how many of you learned to play them. You often did it by watching other gamers and being coached by them when you finally got into the game. Every possibility was pointed out to you. Every misstep was corrected by SHOWING YOU how it was done. Sure you occasionally had to review the rules, but, on the whole, you merely absorbed the game by watching and doing. It was not uncommon for only a couple of people to actually throughly read the rules, and then they taught everyone else the gaming system.

This is what DFII will do. I expect new players can be up and running within an hour of watching the video and consulting the tables. New ideas or questions can be answered by looking at an example, not trying to decipher cryptic phrases in a rule book. Remember the old party game of trying to tell a person how to unbutton and take off a raincoat? How much easier to show them how do it!

The director of the video is a professional that has produced several hundred hours of programming with a specialty in how-to instructional videos, The cameraman is an experienced free-lancer using the latest camera and lighting equipment. The editor has edited two award winning educational videos, and numerous instructional short pieces. I will be primary talent on camera, joined by a cast of long time war gamers who are familiar with the Die Fighting rules. I will write the script along with the director.

I’m still running the numbers on this project, but I think there will be some real economies for both the publisher (me) and the customers. Even better, the cost of shipping discs is considerably less than bigger and increasingly heavier print rulebooks.

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The package right now appears to be two disks; a DVD with the video rules, and a CD with the full color tables, summaries, cards and period rules. These can be printed by you. I will offer as deluxe add-ons top quality card versions of the QRS, Tables, and information materials and professionally done cards. Updates and new ideas will be put on the Yahoo! site as print updates, but annual Video Update Editions will be made available on DVDs as needed.

Shooting for the project is planned for late August with a September release. Anyone who purchased DF in the past six months will get a special steep discount on DFII, past website customers will get a pre-publication discount on DFII, and a special sale of my very few remaining copies of DF at a reduced price will be announced in the next week.

More information will follow as this exciting project proceeds. Please ask any questions at the Yahoo! Site. Suggestions are also welcome.

Officers-Salute the Rank!

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In writing my last blog entry on “The Battle of Mouzon,” and thinking on the way both the FOB game and the DF game were affected by the quality of the officers, I began to reflect on larger issues of game design where officer quality impacts our view of battles, and our wargame designs.

I’ve often felt that game designers and players seem to reflect in their choice of rules their attitudes on many things, including the role of officers. In many games, especially during the Horse and Musket period, the officers are a slight up modifier or a penalty for the units they command. Gamers are very willing to give great consideration to all sorts of minor differences of drill, exaggerated “national differences”, conjectured capabilities of various units, or very slight advances in technology, but officers? Not so much.

Part of this stems, I think from the very simple fact that most present day gamers have not served in the military, and of those who have, the great majority have been enlisted ranks, with the highest command level of sergeant. This accounts for the great popularity of skirmish and squad level games, and the limited role of officers in larger battle’s gameplay. It also explains a certain lack of understanding and appreciation of the officer and the intricacies of command both organizationally and in terms of leadership.

And yet, when we look at the history of battles, officers on all levels, but especially of divisional, corps, or commanding officer responsibility, and their capabilities, are usually the surest predictor of success or failure of a fighting force, not the vaunted fierceness of a few troops, or the dominance of a particular organizational or technological advantage.

Gaston Bodart wrote a book called “Losses of Life in Modern War” In which he analyzed the losses of French and Austrian officers in those two armies over a 300 year period, and found that the French lost more officers in the period 1805-1815 than the Austrian’s did from 1618-1913! He used this information to suggest that the success of French arms in the Napoleonic Wars may have had something to do with leading from the front!

I have slowly come to the conclusion that Officers are another class of units that are important, and often unique, to an army’s functioning and chances of victory. Most rules have very elaborate and defined roles for the infantry units, the cavalry units, artillery, and even the engineering and support units, but officers, are, at best, a plus or minus 1 or 2 and often denote units that can move or not if they are located nearby (in command, etc.).

In DF they are MUCH more than that. They are the source of very necessary command dice to be added to rolls for movement, combat, and even more for morale. They can often determine the successful reaching of an objective, success in combat, and the alacrity of a rally. They are, however, not unlimited in initial number, they can be used up in a turn, and the distance that they may be “transmitted” to a unit is very much determined by the quality of a commander.

There is much more to them than just the command dice, as flawed generals, or exceptional leaders are given distinctive differences in their battle behaviors, and additional ways they can affect units.

They are now “units” in the game, just as the combat arms are, but their offensive capabilities are expressed through the movement, performance, and morale of units-just as they were in actual battle.


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If anything, in the first iteration of DF there were too many officers allowed on the tables provided. As we gamed over the years, we discovered the profound affect they have on battle in the DF rules. This has led to increasingly lower numbers of officers allowed. Our typical games in the WSS now have a ratio of about 1 officer per 6 units-plus a CinC. This is for armies of about 25-30 combat units. Certainly, even a very good army should not be at a ratio of less than 4-1including the CinC. In DFII one of the significant changes will be these ratios, which will probably be 5-1 for “the Best”, to 6-1 for average, to 7 or 8-1 for poorer armies (The Russians at Narva, The French in 1870, the Prussian 1806 army, etc.) This effectively halves the officer units from the initial DF rules.

I have also added a new method of profiling the officers. Rather than just rolling them up-which is still quite viable-I now write profiles on each officer stand that are based on history as to their overall capability and any flaws or advantages they may have. Each such profile is associated with a certain card in a suit (Hearts for French, Diamonds for allies-though sometimes other suits are used for Spanish, Bavarian, or Prussian leaders). Prior to the game the players pull cards from a deck of cards-this establishes their command structure (officers) for that game. They can then assign them to the various commands. Each officer profile has a priority number-the highest must be CinC. This insures that Marlborough, or Villars would have precedence in our WSS battles, for instance.

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In any case, my officers-each mounted-sometimes with staff-on a single 2 1/2” circular stand are thought of as units to be used intelligently in planning the battle-just as we think of where certain units of cavalry and infantry are placed, and guns are sited; so we also consider which officers should be given certain tasks, given their personalities, and just where they should be located to best serve their command. Leading from the front is still rewarded.

There is the danger of an officer being lost. This is usually caused by a test which we now use; If any unit in an officers immediate command acquires a black die, he must roll a D6 for each such occurance- a 1 indicates immediate death, with newly rated or chosen officer appearing on the next RRR phase; A 2 roll indicates a wounding-he loses 1 command die for each wound suffered. If all his command dice are lost he is dead of his wounds.

In any case, these profiles allow the great historically-based personalities of a period to enter our games, and also makes each officer stand a thoughtfully used unit of battle, and not just an afterthought. It gives our officer corps a little more respect!

In the latest game we played, The “A Different Battle Along the Alva,” posted yesterday on this blog, we took the roles of the officers up even further! Instead of calculating the Red Dice for each army based on the assigned troop values prior to the game as a combined total of usually hundreds of dice, we, instead, rolled each commands and the CIC’s command dice prior to the first turn, and then again on each RRR card, thus generating their Resource Dice throughout the game based on officer dice rolls. This meant each player had far fewer dice at any given time, and the danger of overextending himself, or being too rash, and having his command’s dice bucket go empty was much more an issue.

The CIC also rolled at the same time as the sub-commanders, but his role was to apportion his dice to commanders as he saw a need. He had to do this on an RRR card. The method of distribution was made identical to the distribution of yellow command dice. He had to roll his command dice to transfer a designated bunch of dice. If he failed, the dice were lost, if he made the roll they were placed in the sub-commander’s bucket. This meant the CIC had to consider his position relative to other commanders, and a better commander had more latitude than a poor one.

If a sub-commander’s bucket went empty, his command’s units were considered disorder/out of command and thereby gave a one die advantage to any attacker. They also, obviously, had no Red dice to add to their rolls , but could add yellow and green dice as warranted. Any losses were as usual with possible black dice added to his problems. If, at any later point, red dice were acquired the units would lose their disorder without rally and be considered under command again. However, any black dice acquired and distance retreated remained.

Any commander with disordered/out of command troops could move them away from the enemy and toward his own shortest line of retreat from the field using green and yellow dice, and ADD any black dice to this roll. They COULD NOT move toward the enemy or initiate any form of combat, but only respond if attacked.

This system worked elegantly, I think, and all gamers seemed to like it. It cut set-up time to near zero, as no calculations of dice needed to be made, fewer dice are required overall, and game resolution was, if anything, shortened. It added great tension to the game, and made the “energy” to maneuver and fight contingent on command, not the units themselves. The units assumed a more proper role as the instruments of battle, not the motivator of it. It accented better command in a way few games presently do.

It is such a striking advance in game play that It has made me more committed than ever to do Die Fighting II soon. Very soon! There will be an announcement in a few days concerning this matter-that may prove VERY surprising!

The Most Unrealistic Thing About Wargames-except DF, of course!


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Last Saturday we played a Franco-Prussian Wargame set in 1870, using my 10mm FPW armies (an AAR to be posted in the next few days). Near the end of the game we had the usual post-mortem “If only, and then, and but for that...” discussion. At the table was a player that seldom had played DF before who made a comment that only a fresh set of eyes allows. He said that he was surprised that no units had been removed, and all the original figures and troops were on the table, but they had by virtue of dice loss-lost the game. They were under pressure in several areas by the enemy, and had definitely taken the worst of it, throughout in die loss and-by the rules-they were forced to leave the field and admit defeat because one of their dice buckets was empty. He said he’d never seen a game like that before-no stacks of enemy troops on a small side table, no fractured and incomplete units on the table.

It was a great thought provoking moment for me. Most of the group had been playing DF for several years, and, even with the continued development and rule adjustments that come from continued play, had been so close to the game that they had never commented on this phenomenon.

I thought for a moment about other war-games, and sure enough, most games as they progress see numerous figures removed from the tabletop. They see the level of losses and visual removal that few generals in history, especially after the medieval period, ever saw. Not that it couldn’t happen (see Culloden), but it seldom did. In most cases, most units of an army retired off the battle field and even those units that had taken significant losses survived-with new recruits-to fight another day.

The curse of miniature war-games from day one has been the Custer’s Last Stand approach of fighting to the last unit or man on the table. In the early period, up to the 1970s, this was accepted as the nature of wargaming and 70-100% percent losses were common, with the only matter of discussion being who was left standing-who “won”?

I always thought it odd that gamers who paint figures with such care, and , when completed look so glorious, never regretted removing them from play and sight so sanguinely!

In the1970s and 80s, gamers and rule designers responded to this obvious absurdity by creating all sorts of morale rules, that prevented combat, limited combat, or, when all else failed, required retreat when certain conditions were created. There was also a resort to combat rules that led to staunchly attritional and grinding results. In short, games took hours, losses were limited and retreats required that, by rule, forced units off the table. These games were often painful grinding matches and often decided at the local pub after the game in spirited debate as to who “could have won” if the game only went on for five more hours!

In the 90s, new approaches were, thankfully, tried. These new rules deliberately defeated the carefully crafted equilibrium of movement opportunity, balanced forces of troops, and slow and easily answered attacks, with a wide variety of effects which decreased predictability and rewarded perceptive analysis of the battlefield. This effect was created with cards, less predictable combat results, greater mobility of units on the tabletop and “indirect” morale rules. By indirect, I mean that the effect of morale was taken out the player’s hands, and often tracked not by combat loss on an immediate basis, but by an accumulation of effects in a way that was not easily tracked by the opponent or open to player control. This was also an era that introduced the infamous roster with boxes to be checked off, as a substitute for troop removal. Not a bad idea, but checking off boxes is best left to Bingo players, and many gamers forgot, or hated being reminded to mark their losses. Suspicions of cheating were always about, as well.

In Piquet, I mixed the turn sequence unpredictability by using cards ( it always seems difficult to get some people to recognize the difference between unit activation and turn sequencing), introduced counter-rolls with clear “odds’ of success (a D8 vs a D4 will generally win), but no rigid odds or CRT result of success, and, most importantly, the tracking of morale on a hidden basis with chips.

Neither side knows the exact number of chips the enemy starts with, only their own, and neither side can absolutely guess when the morale will dictate an end to the game. One these things are taken from the player’s knowledge, their play becomes more measured, land more realistic than in many games.

It also lessens the need to remove troops or units from the table as the troops are what they should have always been a marker for their position and their type of troop. Real losses were tracked outside their removal, and other than an initial OOB, never required any accounting or checking off a roster.

My ultimate design goals for DF included, even making this less onerous than roster checking or tossing chips. Die Fighting include morale and the offensive capacity of an army in one device the Resource Dice. Fewer of them means you start to restrict your choices for action, too grandiose a plan burns them up too quickly, and when they are gone, the game is over. Finis!

The added key, is other than catastrophic loss, which is rare (as it as in history) and even rarer against better troops, the troops are on the table the entire time of play. Those glorious figures you have fussed over for hours in their creation are on the table to view until the decision is reached. Quite apart from the aesthetic advantage it also happens to reflect actual battles up until the moment of decision.

The added realization that last Saturday’s FPW game added was that the dice are a surrogate for the troops lost. No figures need be removed, but the dice take their place with the same effect. Eventually you run out, but the battlefield remains colorful and interesting, the units remain until the decision point, as only dice substitutes are removed! Units still retreat, morale rules still force retreats, and ultimately the dice surrogates also force closure when they are expended, just as chips or roster boxes did in other rules.

It also allows the designer and the player to escape the prison of concept and practice that the long ago games started with figure and stand loss of figures. Resources dice are actually a liberating concept, just as I believe card sequencing has been.

An AAR on the FPW game will follow tomorrow.


IMP, Occam's Razor, and PBN


Einstein

When we design historical war-games we are attempting to reflect some aspects of decision making and model physical actions that real commanders and troops demonstrated during battles. We read a wide variety of sources, often make notes about the events we read about, and we frequently find contradictory information, incomplete accounts, and degrees of variance in the stated outcome of events. The description of the decision of certain general can be highly subjective, and it is not uncommon to find huge gaps and omissions in the description of events. How do we weigh this information? How do we decide what or who to believe? What tools can we use to sort the wheat from the chaff, or the gold from the dross?

The two that I have found are Inherent Military Probability (IMP) and Occam’s Razor.

Inherent Military Probability was first proposed as a tool by Arthur Higgins Burne, an ex-officer in the Royal Artillery, and later, a military historian who authored several books on ancient , medieval, and early gunpowder warfare. (He co-wrote a book on the ECW with Peter Young). HIs original premise was that as you tried to decipher historical evidence and accounts you should apply a test of “What would a trained staff officer of the 20th century most likely have done?” If it wouldn’t make sense to him-it probably didn’t happen that way. If it does make sense then it had to be more strongly credited. This was later amended by some to say that it must make sense to a person in that era as some situations may not have a direct historical corollary to the modern mind.


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It remains mildly controversial, and has had some singular successes and failures as an approach, but I think it is an invaluable tool when used correctly. Correct use requires really thinking a account or report through and examining it logically. Ultimately the question is “Does this make sense?” as important as the provenance of the remark, its source, or the authority of the account. It requires judgement and knowledge.

An example of my first use of this in wargaming many years ago is a series of articles I wrote in the old Courier about the use of artillery. At that time in the 70s, many gamers used “Ricochet Sticks” to denote where a ball ricocheted “Over” a unit and had no effect, and where in was low enough to have effect. I thought about this a long time and turned to elementary physics and ballistics to prove that this didn’t make sense. A ball fired from a smoothbore gun at zero elevation will NEVER rise higher than the gun muzzle, and every ricochet will be below the height of a man. If fired at a higher angle their will be fewer ricochets (remember skipping a rock on a water surface?)if any, and they will all be lower than a man, or a man on horse back. In certain extreme cases of terrain, where the target is on the backslope of a hill, or the ball hits say the top of a stone wall, it may fly over a man, but almost certainly will bury in on its next impact. In effect, the IMP of a ricochet clearing a man height is very low and ricochet sticks are representing a nonexistent factor. There was a great kerfluffle by the advocates of this equipment until General B.P. Hughes book, “Firepower” came out about a year later stating the exact same finding. Ricochet sticks disappeared from the wargame table a victim of IMP and physics!

Another such finding in my articles was that during the era of Smoothbore Artillery, heavier weight guns had more effect on a single infantry or cavalry target than lighter guns when firing ball. This was easily dispatched as nonsense when logic and physics was again applied. The size difference in diameter between 4-6-8-and 12 pound field artillery balls was not very much-less than an inch in diameter for all but the 4 lb. and only an inch and a half for that!. That is, the area of effect was nearly identical! (remember they non-explosive rounds) So all artillery hard shot should have equivalent effect on a single target. Where they varied was MASS which made the heavier guns able to penetrate through many more units before the ball’s motion was arrested. They were, for the same reason more impactful on solid objects such as walls, fortifications, etc. They also had a much higher effectiveness with their canister, and a somewhat longer theoretical range, but that was seldom of great use. What they did not have was a higher effect with roundshot on a single unit to their front. IMP-QED!

The above examples are easy manifestations using physics and math, but using an IMP based on your general military reading as to the likeliness of certain behavior bolstered by a general view of people in real life and their reaction to stress and conflict is an invaluable tool for assessing information to be used in a design.

The other tool is Occam’s Razor. This premise was set forward by William of Occam in the 14th century as a means of judging the most logical explanation for a single event. In its simplest form it merely states that, when faced with several explanations or causes for an event, always look the simplest, least involved, and uncomplicated explanation-always. One way to phrase this is when you hear hoof-beats behind you always think of horses approaching, not zebras!

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Now, this does not preclude complex answers, or scientific data, but simply says the simplest explanation with the fewest assumptions is a good place to start. This is a conspiracy killer, an answer to Rube Goldberg explanations for events and long involved explanations of why Junior missed school yesterday. The use of Occam’s razor for a war gamer designing rules, or deciding the accuracy of unverifiable reports, is a very handy tool. Go for the clean and simple. Eschew obfuscation!

Finally, I’d like to comment on rule users themselves, and how they effect their own enjoyment of rules. I am open to argument on this at my Yahoo! site, but it strikes me that we have seen a lessening of experimentation and creative growth in rule users, more than in rule designers! I can’t remember a time when, when playing a set of rules I didn’t think of a better way to do something within that rule structure, or come up with a new extension of the rules, or redefine some aspect of their use. Usually I did this to better suit my idea of how things occurred in a period battle, or to make the rules more playable-FOR ME. This also led to my answering a lot of my own questions about certain points of rules that might be unclear- I seldom asked the designer, unless I was impossibly confused. If I liked the core principles of a set of rules, I was more than happy to be creative in order to make them even better for my use!

That appears to be less common among war gamers now. In effect they want their war-games to be the equivalent of oil paintings done by the number. They want to be told where to put a color. They want to be told the exact shade of that color. They want firm lines denoting exactly where the boundaries between colors are. They want to be told the exact and precise nature of the image being created. Tell me the color. Tell me the number. Show me the finished picture.


Mona Lisa

Even worse, they never even consider different shades and hues, or how to actually paint, but just want to be told what to do. They want all their answers supplied, and they want no responsibility to figure it out or experiment on their own.

What is needed for a great wargame is the gamer must be a creative painter, and throw away the numbered canvas. He must try to grasp the inherent principles of a design which are usually fairly easy to grasp after a reading or two, and a couple of times on the table, but then he should take it on himself to innovate, to try new ideas, and bend the rules to his liking. He should use a set of rules as a base for his own creativity and exploration of history. He should really try to become his own artist rather than always going to the Master for interpretation and certification.

Part of this may stem from the fantasy backgrounds of many current gamers, where there is no real world to use as a touchstone for their ideas, but only the limited universe found between the covers of a 128 page, full glossy, Codex. The gamers using these rules are looking to fit in to a group rather than to strike out creatively and as an individual. They are also constrained by the corporate game publisher’s restricting their ideas to “Official Rules” and “Official Figures.” That is fine for an adolescent, but an adult in a creative hobby should at least try to be creative and an individual and not just a passive recipient of some imaginary construct.

Historical gamers have no such excuse. They are the heirs, as I have stated before, of creative writers such as Stevenson, Wells, Pratt, and Featherstone, and their hobby begs for added entertaining narrative that may include a light hearted comment on the human condition. They are missing so much, if they don’t give up painting by the numbers, and learn to paint!


The Black Die (Current Status)

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The introduction of the Black Die has made for some very nice improvements and subtle considerations in Die Fighting. In a very real sense it was the final touch needed for the system to really blossom into a simple system that had a number of subtle and complex decision points. It allowed even better modeling of units and combat than the original system.

The Black Die ideas developed over a couple of years of play and over a dozen games. When first introduced, it was simply a negative effect on the performance of a very few units that had performed noticeably badly in a prior game. It was a badge of dishonor, so to speak. That use proved interesting and quite limiting to the unit involved. The usual result was that that unit was detailed off to a very safe, or inconsequential area of the battlefield and was, in effect, quarantined!

The effect of the die was nevertheless quite interesting to me. I experimented it in a different aspect with the Colonial Template that I published in the Files Section of the Yahoo! site. In that sub-set of rules I applied the Black Die to units, especially natives, with every hit, and its effect was solely against movement. This created a very realistic slowing of Zulu or Dervish charges, and found them behaving exactly as described in historical accounts where they slowed, came to a stop, and went to ground. This opened my eyes to a more general and effective use of the Black die in all periods. My last Black Die posting in November of 2013 covered this extended use of the Black dice, which we have used, and slowly developed further since.

I find it adds greater versimilitude to game play in many, if not all, periods. It makes retreats and rallies more central to game play. It actually allows greater decisiveness in combat than the original system with its sometimes rapid retreats. It adds little or no complexity to play, and is consistent with the general dice accretion and rolling system of Die Fighting.

Current Rues For Black Dice

1. On any combat where the defender rolls higher than the attacker in either melee or fire, there is no effect. It is a miss.

2. On any combat hit of 6 or less, a unit may “buy down” the loss by discarding red dice of the same number. The unit remains in good order, fully capable of movement, melee, or fire. The only loss is the red dice.

3. On any combat hit of 7 or more, the unit loses the identical number of red dice to the discard bucket. If the difference is 9, 9 dice are lost; if 15, fifteen dice are lost. If the immediate loss is greater than the initial dice worth of the unit (Example: Line regular units are worth 12) then the unit suffers a catastrophic loss and is removed from the table-obviously unralliable. If the number is less than the initial value, then a single black die is rolled to determine the retreat distance of the affected unit. That Black Die shall then remain with the unit until a successful rally removes it. That Black die is rolled on every action thereafter taken and is subtracted from the totals of the other dice rolled by that unit until it is removed by a rally. If unrallied and another hit of 7 or more occurs, the unit follows the same procedures, but adds an additional Black Die and uses their combined totals as the black dice effect. This continues for any subsequent hits to any number, though 3 black dice generally guarantee the unit is lost from the game.

It affects any fire, melee combat, forward movement, or rally attempt as follows:

a. Fire-simply deducted from the total of other dice.
b. Melee-simply deducted from the total of other dice.
c. Movement-simply deducted from the total of other dice when moving forward toward the enemy. Added to the total when voluntarily retreating from the enemy. It is the distance moved (no other dice added) on any combat-caused involuntary retreat. Any roll of combined Black Dice of 7 or more and the unit is then considered routed, and will involuntarily retreat to the rear. It cannot initiate any combat. It will continue doing this until rallied or it exits the field of battle.

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Total is 16 (Y-R-G) minus 4 (B)= 12


d. Rally- A rally can occur on any Reload, Rally, Restore Card or (New Rule) Officer Action card. The goal as in the regular rules is doubles of a certain number or higher in a roll made up of Red Dice, Yellow Command Dice, and any Green dice allowed. However, the Black die or dice eliminate any doubles of the number rolled on that black die or dice. Example: If a roll of doubles of 4 or higher was required for a rally, and the rallying unit threw a double 5, but a black die of 5 was rolled, then that rally was not counted! One added rally rule is that any triple rolled eliminates ALL black dice, and Black dice do not eliminate that roll!
e. If the total of Black Dice rolled by any unit exceeds the total on the red dice rolled, Command-yellow dice- are NOT counted in the totals for that unit’s attempted action.


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Yellow Die doesn’t count! Total is 13(Green and Red)-11(Black)= 2


That’s it-simple and sweet! Note the change in allowing Rallies under Officer actions as well as under the R-R-R card, and the wonderful effect of triples on a rallying unit. The Black Die exceeding the Red Die eliminating Command dice is also to be closely observed.

Other Ideas for Black Dice

I’m still open to units starting the game with a black die if they preformed badly enough that it was agreed they require further redemption! This should be rare.

For aesthetic reasons I’m planning on substituting casualty figures, painted in the uniform color of the affected unit and mounted on Oval terrained bases, rather than leaving a black die on the unit. DF leaves very few dice on the field of battle as red dice are discarded immediately, green dice are kept at the table edge and returned there after use, as are the yellow dice. I like that and didn’t want Black dice to be an exception.

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I’m also thinking of experimenting with all commanders acquiring black dice as well! Before sending any dice to a unit the black die would be subtracted from the distance roll. Black dice would be acquired by officers anytime a unit under their command loses a combat. They would be lost every time a unit wins a combat. An added thought is that anytime an affected unit throws a 1 on any roll of a black die, his immediate commander is considered either wounded( minus 1 yellow die for remainder of the game) or killed ( removed and replaced with a newly rated commander). The nature of the hit would be a simple die roll 1-2 is killed; 3-6 is wounded.

We’ll try it in the next game.

Strassen Stream-A Black Die Test

On the 16th of November we fought a large WSS battle on a relatively flat terrain marked by only a small stream, light forest, a small village, Strassen, and two rough (class III) hills. The primary purpose was to test the black die concepts, as well as introduce hussars, howitzers, and a new Officer Action Card definition to play. We also tried a variant on the Multiple Bucket, die allocation, methods. The game was played by three gamers on a side`and treated as a meeting engagement. All units and officer ratings were strictly by the published rules. The Allied Army was made up of 14 Infantry battalions, 6 cavalry and 3 Dragoon units, 5 artillery-4 heavy, 1 light, and a 3 unit train, plus 5 command stands; A total of 332 figures over 36 units. The French had 15 infantry 7 Cavalry plus 2 dragoons, 6 guns including 5 heavy, and 1 howitzer, a 3 unit train plus 5 command groups; a total of 353 figures over 38 units. There were nearly 700, 28mm figures in 74 units on the table! For all that, the game was conceded after 3 hours of play.

Here is a battlefield map:



The Battle of STrassen 3
(Trains not indicated on battle map, but were located near the road exit for the French, and behind the British position.)


The initial set up of the terrain was intended to be simple with only a few necessary variables, as the primary purpose was to test the new black die rules, plus a few new changes to Officer Actions. We also introduced Howitzers, and Hussars to the scenario. Objective markers were kept to a minimum, with each road exit being worth 10x, the hills each at 8x, The bridge at Strassen stream at 8 and the three structures of Strassen village valued at 6x each. As it was a meeting engagement, it was decided that both armies would draw their phase cards from a randomly shuffled deck. The two sides rolled for the deployment of each arm, with high man having the choice of deploying or forcing the other side to do so.

In all cases, the winner chose to have the other side deploy so they could take advantage of noting his initial positions. The order of deployment was placement of artillery first, then infantry, followed by cavalry, and then, lastly the placement of command stands. The French won all rolls, except for the last for command. Units could be deployed 16” onto their side, which left 16”, or roughly 800 yards between the armies. This was somewhat farther in than the usual 12”, but I was anxious to get into action for the purposes of the Black Die Test as soon as possible..

The two armies had been rated the night before, and the results may be found on the Yahoo! Site in the Files section under Battle of Strasssen Steam. http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Repiquerules/files

We also used a new method of dice allocation for a multi-bucket game. We assigned dice values and quality corrections as per the standard rules, but we did not simply total all the dice into one pool and divide it into equal buckets of the sum of the players on a side plus two ( one “share” for each player, plus two shares for the CinC, one of which he distributes to any or all of the players as he sees fit prior to the game beginning, and one he can give to any ONE player on the RRR card after the first turn) Instead, each command was determined (primarily by nationality) and its total was entirely its own. From each 15 dice were contributed to the CinC’s single bucket, that he could then give in any number he liked, on any RRR card phase, to any player’s force he chose.

If any one player runs out of dice the game is over and his side loses, unless on the same turn, the enemy also suffers a player running out of dice. At that point, the battle may rage on, but it is usually called a draw in our group. I am writing an article on the Multi-Bucket concept that is more inclusive and complete than the one posted here a few weeks back.

Ratings and initial dice numbers are found on the yahoo site at the Battle of Strassen Stream folder in the Files section mentioned above. The number in parentheses after the total is the roll over number. We only issue half the total in the initial bucket, but then when it is used up, we flip it over for the other half of the dice-when it’s empty again the player is out of dice, and his troops are able to do nothing but retreat. To facilitate this we usually have two dice buckets per player one for the active dice and one for the “used” dice.

The Black dice rules in effect, and the new rules for Officer Action card, Howitzers and Hussars are all in the Strassen folder.

The Battle:

1-Players
Left-Front to back-John Mumby (Montpellier and Philip), Chris Caudil ( Villars and Conde fils), Brent Oman (Durant);
Right- Front to back- Ed Meyers (napping Van Voort), Terry Shockey (Eugene and Kronprinz Carl), Greg Rold ( Marlborough and Cadogan)


The Battle kicked off with a strong French attack on their right using the combined cavalry of the Spanish and the French Cavalry Reserve under Montpellier. This was hardly a surprise as Mssr. M. had an established reputation as being a hothead and rather foolhardy with his cavalry. It was a glorious advance-full moves straight ahead at the enemy flank cavalry.

French RW Cavalry Attack

At the same time, the Spanish infantry advanced upon the hill and its objective, while from the opposite side the Dutch Infantry, including the Dutch Guard, moved on the same objective. On the left flank of this action the Spanish artillery opened fire on the limbered Dutch Artillery which was attempting to gain a flank on the enemy units on the hill. That fire led to the civilian limber crew immediately depositing the artillery piece jus beyond the stream. The crew manned the gun, as best they could< as the limber gang fled the field!

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It was hard fought on this flank and many troops( and dice) were lost as the two sides fought furiously for the hill. Eventually, the Dutch Guard prevailed and their morale (and dice) were improved by a good roll for the objective. The Salisch regiment also caught the charging French/Spanish cavalry with a flank fire that destroyed the Conde Regiment, and sent the Curassiers du Roi back with grave losses. The tide had turned on the Allied left as there had been extreme losses of French troops and morale, for little gain by the Franco-Spanish force.
The Commnder of the French Forces, elected to cease any further efforts in this area, and the Franco/Spanish commander was down to less than a dozen dice! Other than an very high mortality among the Dutch Standard bearers, caused by some clumsy tactical moves by Van Voort, the Dutch had weathered the attack and had a firm grasp of the hill.

However, the Allies had already begun a flanking attack on their Right with their best troops and under the command of the CIC, Marlborough,himself! IN conjunction with the entire British command under Cadogan, the Allied mixed force of Cavalry, Hussars, and Dragoons has swept around, and through, the woods on the French Left with little resistance. To prevent the allies from strongly responding to this threat, the British infantry Led by Seymour’s Marines, And Orkney’s Royal Scots rushed the hill to the left of the woods, and through back a token effort by an on experienced commander to seize the objective with the Royal Italian regiment.

Allied Flanking attack on the Right

In the center, The French were also on the attack with a strong force advancing in the plain and a supporting force to its right storming through the village of Strassen made up of the Regiment Picardy supported by the Garde Suisse and Garde Francais.

The center attack was stopped cold by British artillery and superior fire discipline. As you can see in the photo below, both the Lyonnais Regiment and the Soissonais Regiment had acquired some black dice, and their advance was slowing and looking very precarious. This black dice were taking their toll, and rally was becoming difficult as command (yellow) dice were being diverted to the action on the hill to their left, and to counter the flanking maneuver by the British mounted forces.

Center attack fails

It was no better around Strassen. Though the French had taken the bridge and the town by a coup de main by the Regiment Picardie storming up the road, over the Bridge, and into the main part of Strassen, they were effectively bottled up by a large allied force of Prussians and Austrian Walloons, just outside Strassen arrayed in firing lines and just waiting for them to emerge from the cover of the village. Even the support sent by Conde of the Garde Suisse viewed any further advance (especially since their artillery was totally masked) as very chancy. Villars pondered his next move.

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Unfortunately for Villars, the situation was deteriorating rapidly. Some Piedmont Drogoons had infiltrated the wood to villas right and were peppering his second line, and making it impossible for them to advance without exposing their flank to short ranged fire which is deadly in DF. A Prussian Light Battery also took position between the Austro-Prussian firing line and the Dragoon infested wood and was also opening up on the French just across the Strassen stream. At that point the Garde Suiss took some hits and a black die. Word from his right of the impending collapse of the Spanish, and from his left of the Marlborough and Cadogan led flanking attack were very unsettling.

French Left Threatened

At that crucial moment, Durant was shot from the saddle, just as Cadogan’s Horse, supported by the Esterhazy Hussars, and Hay’s and Lloyd’s Dragoons emerged from the woods on the French Left. The only force to contest with them was a Bavarian Cuirassier unit (Weikel) and the Bouffremont Dragoons. The only uncommitted reserve for the whole army was the Maison Rouge Cavalry of Gendarmes Eccossais and Bourguingnon, and the Mousquetaires du Roi. Villars ordered them along with a few casualty free units to cover the retreat of the army as he conceded the field. The battle had lasted two and one-half hours of play and about 45 minutes of pre-battle chatter; three hours and a half by the time all had departed.

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The Gendarmes Ecossais cover the French retreat as night falls.


Conclusions:

The French committed a cardinal sin of warfare and DF, they attacked essentially on the whole front with no single focus for their effort. DF punishes these general attacks very harshly as they waste a great deal of resources and energy (Red Dice) by dissipating it over a wide front that the enemy can meet in a piecemeal fashion, defeating each in turn.

This was exacerbated by one commander (Montpellier) being characterized as Foolhardy, which meant that any charge launched by him was going to be a go-for-broke effort. It did and it was. On the other flank, the player was new to DF, and opposed to a skilled and experienced Allied commander that concentrated the Allies’ major attack on that flank. All of the other sections of the allied line were on the defense and punished the separate French Attacks.

The French center in troops and leadership (especially the Superior Conde fils) was the best single faction of the French force, but never really got untracked. It might have been the best place for a concentrated French attack. Their artillery was masked for much of the battle, and the village was a very disruptive factor in their advance.

Great applause must go to Marlborough for his very personal leadership and determined, concentrated, enveloping maneuver, which, along with the serious losses caused the French by the Allied forces in the center and on the Allied left, won the battle.

Game Mechanics:

1. The black die rules were generally viewed favorably. They play very simply, and instill a slowing and retrograde unit behavior without a ton of rules or tables. I love it.

2. We are thinking that a slight initial devaluation of unit die values, particularly for very large games such as this one, would accelerate the decision point. It is suggested that all units be lowered by two die points for games with more than 20 units on a side. I.e., A regular would be worth 10 dice instead of 12, Guards 14 instead of 16, etc.

3. We used a random card play of the six phase cards, and rather enjoyed it, especially for meeting engagements.

4. The new Officer Action Rule that allows rally attempts on that phase as well as during RRR was very much liked. It also instills some increased conflicts in the gamer’s mind about whether to use command dice for rally or for combat actions.

5. Neither the Howitzer rules or the Hussar rules were tested at all! The howitzer never had line of sight, and the Hussars were rear support for Cadogan’s horse and never really in combat. Next game.

6. Train rules were in effect, but the train of both armies was never threatened. Each train was given a commander with 2 command dice which could ONLY be used to augment the normal 1 die movement of the train. I have yet to pay up the bottle of Beaujolais for the capture of the Wine Wagon.




Few Battles, Many Wargames


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I recently was part of an exchange of emails from a gamer deciding what period to paint figures for next. There were many arguments back and forth about the merits of several periods, but one criticism came up which got me to thinking about wargame periods in a new way.

The opinion was advanced that some periods are not really worth consideration because so few battles were fought in the actual war. The exact period in question was the Great Northern War where it was asserted only four major battles were fought over twenty years of fighting, so what could a gamer really expect from the period? This was contrasted with the American Civil War and the Napoleonic Wars where dozens of good sized battle were fought. Other periods such as the WSS and even the American Revolution certainly had fewer major battles, and in the case of the AWR the ones that were fought were minuscule in size of the armies compared to European actions of that same time.

Just a bit of thought on this matter brought me to not only reject this line of argument, but to actually see some merit in wars that had fewer battles!

First of all, unless one limits one’s gaming in a period to recreating actual battles and refighting them, the lack of battles in a period is not really important. Even in periods with many battles, most gamers find themselves refighting three or four favorite “Old Warhorses” and ignoring most other engagements. I bet there’s a hundred Napoleonic gamers that have refought Waterloo, Salamanca, Leipsic or Austerlitz multiple times to every one gamer that has refought Ulm or LaRothiere. Likewise, Gettysburg seems to be the recurring ACW game, and Pea Ridge is only for the truly committed ACW miniature gamer.

More importantly, the VAST majority of games I’ve been in or seen played were fictionalized engagements built around a scenario that, though based on historical considerations, was entirely created for the purpose of playing a good game with challenging premises and not any actual events. Sometimes these fictional games were a form of alternative history where a real battle was altered in numbers, location, or timing and based on real events, but more often they are just created out of whole cloth. Again, great consideration was given to the historical technologies, drill and command limitations of each army, and even to insuring realistic terrain and uniform correctness, BUT the tabletop battle itself was a creative fiction, an act of imagination and artistic design. These are often great games, and are a VERY common form of historical wargaming at conventions as well as in private gaming.

As long as there is enough of a historical record to accurately estimate the effectiveness of arms, each armies tactical skills, and the quality of leadership and command, you can create battles for the tabletop that will be fun and historically instructive. In fact, there is a case to be made that periods with fewer battles encourage more of this historically imaginative gaming, which may be more rewarding and challenging than recreating actual battles.

If you know the Prussians will arrive in late afternoon at Waterloo, or that there’s nobody in front of you at Chancellorsville, or any number of certainties that the actual commanders did not have at that time, you will be making decisions on the basis of a science-fiction novel as you foresee the future, and the possible outcome from past strategies. Talk about unrealistic! However, if you are fighting a battle with no historical precedent, no sure timetable, and no precognition of bad or innovative tactics, you are far closer to a real commander’s experience than in a historical refight. In a fictional scenario, history is yet to be written, and you will write it!

Periods with fewer historical battles free you from the mindset and approach of historical predetermination. It is also true that there is NO LIMIT to the number of creative scenarios and fictional battles you may play in any period! You may fight many, many more battles in the WSS or the GNW than the actual commanders ever did! It is still historically accurate, perhaps more fun, and inspires creativity and not just filling in an order of battle. To be sure, a period must have enough battles and comparative data to accurately recreate its conditions, but as few as three or four engagements are sufficient. Minor actions, raids, and skirmishes also abound in almost every period to add to the information required.

So pick a period you like. If it has intriguing personalities, great uniforms, interesting tactical considerations and limitations, and good amounts of published scholarship, then the last thing to worry about is whether there were one hundred battles or just five! Just as in travel, where the best experiences are often staying and eating where the tourists seldom go; so in wargaming the periods that are a bit off the well-beaten path will often be far more rewarding!

Speaking of beating paths, you might want to beat a path to Nick Wragg’s new Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/eborminiatures/swedish-army-of-the-great-northern-war-by-ebor-min?ref=live

Process Oriented or Results Oriented?

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Late in the day at the close of Getzcon, Jim Getz and I sat for a while in my study and talked about war gamers and their reactions to various wargame designs. We also reflected on the way war gamers react to wargame rules. This was a particularly good time for our little discussion as we had just come off a micro-convention where several different wargame systems had been played, all of which shared a similar approach; Field of Battle, Die Fighting, Maurice and Longstreet.

We reflected on the different systems of wargame design, and how gamers either strongly approve of certain kinds of design or insist they don’t work, and that they will never play them. This even in the face of many gamers that find that those same designs do work, and that they would play nothing else!

Our discussion explored the ends and outs of designs that use variable card sequencing, variable unit values, and both conventional and unconventional combat resolution methods using cards, multiple die types, as well as direct and indirect means of measuring both unit and army morale. We chatted for quite awhile and then came to one conclusion; It isn’t anything intrinsic in the game design that leads to rejection of most rule designs, or even claims about whether they are impossible to play, but, rather, it is the gamer’s themselves!

Jim first suggested that gamers are either literalists and process oriented, or abstractionists and results oriented, in their expectations of a game design.

The process oriented gamer wants everything that occurs on the table top to be explained in the actual game play. If the Slobovian Guard advances on the enemy and exchanges fire, he wants to know how men fired and how many men, to the man, were hit whether an officer was hit and which one, and which way the wind blew the smoke after the fire. They want the game rules to break down each action into discrete steps that are each considered and overtly resolved, without equivocation or the “fog of war.” They want to know, and possibly control, every possible combat decision and outcome, with the minimal amount of chance or delay. Above all, they want outcomes to be the result of a literal and predictable process. They can only accept the outcome if it is the accretion of many,many layers of micro-decisions, all quite open, and without any irrational variables or hidden surprises. They see great generalship as a problem of weighing the factors that influence combat-drill, plan, weaponry, and muster, and, after weighing the obvious factors accurately, they expect a result that is always. always, highly predictable. They will only allow for a minimal effect of variables and unknowns-generally a die roll-and expect any outcome to be the result of the accretion of the processes without any surprises or unpredictable outcomes. They see battle as an extension of a rational, risk-adverse, process. It is chess.

The results oriented gamer is quite different. He certainly wants good history and valid decision points, BUT he wants fewer of them, and demands less “explanation” by the rule’s processes of the minutiae of what occurred. What he wants is a quick resolution that presents the next set of decision points. He wants the end result quickly and decisively. He is also far more open to surprises, the unpredictable, and the vast range of irrational events and chance that one finds in the historical accounts of battles. The results oriented gamer wants to deal with the issues at hand and wants to create the narrative of the game to move on to a series of problems to be solved, full well knowing that the resolution of this set of problems will lead to others. It is MANAGING battle field game play to maximize his “hand”, however bad, that fascinates him, not the accretion of advantages that lead to a certain, or near-certain, result. He loves the vagaries of a narrative replete with unexpected outcomes, upset plans, and the fact that there are few sure things. He wants his games to have a narrative with all the twists and turns of a good book or movie (and most battle histories). This is where card sequenced game design excels, as does the introduction of unpredictable elements into movement, troop values, troop effectiveness, as well as turn sequence. Clauswitz once said that battle is like a game of cards in its narrative aspects. It is poker.

Results oriented gamers often find process oriented games-just plain boring! It is not unusual for them to refuse to play process-heavy games, for the simple fact that it seems unexciting, and rather like drinking flat champagne. Results oriented narrative games require a certain imaginative mindset from the get-go.

Process oriented gamers simply feel that they don’t have enough information, or control, in a narrative game. It is too abstract in it’s weighing of variables, too unpredictable. They often refuse to play because the game makes no sense to them. When I first introduced Piquet many years ago, I remember Pat Condray deeming the design “Zen Wargaming” because it didn’t supply him with the, until then, “Normal” construct of facts, process, and accreted results that he had known for his entire gaming career.

There is no question that results oriented, narrative games have grown in number and sophistication over the last 20 years, but the Process games are still in the majority, and probably always will be-if for no other reason than they are more easily accessible to more people. They are more transparent and the aspects of good play are far more obvious. One of the characteristics of narrative games is the need for the gamer to deduce the best courses of action without the rules obviously stating them. This, alone, defeats the narrative games designs appeal to those who just want to be told what to do. Narrative games usually have a “puzzle” aspect to figuring out the interaction of the various rules systems for best effect. Process designs are explicit in their demands, while Results/Narrative designs are implicit.

There is, of course, room for both types of game designs, and either type of gamer is amply supplied with a tremendous variety of both approaches to wargaming. But make no mistake, when a design is rejected by a gamer or his group, the fault usually lies not in the game design, but in the gamer’s mindset. As with many other creative works, such as books, movies, or paintings, two different people will see very different things in the same object, and popularity is not necessarily the best measure of their intrinsic quality or long-term merit.

Metaphors

Hougomont Falling

In my many years in wargaming, I have often noted the intolerance that exists within the hobby for the other guy’s rules, the appearance of his tabletop terrain, the other guy’s choice of figure scale, and, even, what the other guy thinks he is doing when playing a war-game.

This critique usually takes the form of accused inaccuracy, “His rules are SOOOO unrealistic!”, or belittlement, “That game is just beer and pretzels!”, or damning of process,”They use Cards! Multiple sided dice! A variable turn sequence!” My favorite was a recent reviewer that incorrectly complained that Die Fighting used “A bucket of Dice”, thereby making it suspect.

Of course, the reverse is also true when claims are made that a group is refighting a historical battle and experiencing the “real” thing! Why they even included rules for the unit with the deaf captain and the illiterate messenger-that got lost in the woods in 1813!

It is important to remember that the first aspect of wargaming is the use of metaphors; the use of one object or process to represent another thing or process (either well or badly) . An example is to use the metaphor of a die roll to represent a round of musketry and its effect, or twelve metal 28 mm miniatures to represent 500 men and officers of a regiment, or a one inch high piece of foam, spray-painted green, to represent a thirty foot undulating hill.

Games are all about metaphors, and each metaphor is not only meant to represent some other thing or action, but that representation is abstracted in varying degrees set by an accepted rules structure. Do we need to roll a die 500 times, once for each actual soldier in a combat unit’s fire-or do we abstract that effect into 5 rolls, one for each hundred men, or a single roll? Do we actually need to place every figure into a structure-lifting the roof carefully, or simply declare that the men are in the house and “abstract” their presence? Do we need to remove figures from the table with we very “hit”, or simply mark a roster, or place a marker, or impose some immediate action upon the unit dependent on the degree of the loss? Does a unit have to have a set declared, ratio of figures to actual muster, or just declare that X figures represent the unit?

The truth is, that once you roll the first die, place the first figure on the table, draw the first card as a metaphor for the march of time, or accept that a cardboard and balsa box is a stone and mortar fortress-there is no certain answer to that question. It’s whatever your mind’s eye finds acceptable, and whatever your friends will tolerate or equally accept. There is no RIGHT answer!

However, it is also my experience that if there is one thing the hobby of wargaming has FAR too many examples of, it is literalness, i.e. the inability to abstract and remain open to indirect metaphors that can illustrate some truly meaningful things about warfare in a historical period, and combat in general. All too many gamers get so locked into the “Acceptable” metaphors of time sequencing, combat, movement, and command control that they are blind to alternatives that are no more “unrealistic” and , often, insightful in new ways in illustrating historical events and resolving strategic and tactical problems.

All metaphors are, by intrinsic meaning, false equivalencies, but they invite the mind to create meaningful, and better understandings from the use of the metaphor. The important thing is to be open to new ideas, new metaphors, and to have the intellectual curiosity to explore concepts that are new and different.

One man’s absurd idea, is another man’s brilliant metaphor!

Wise travelers often vary their route, no telling what wonders they might run across!

The Theoretical Basis of Die Fighting


die Fightimng package


One of the great truisms of wargaming is that there are no bad or foolish war-game generals. No table-top general has ever been outfoxed as thoroughly as Mack during the Ulm Campaign, fought his troops as poorly as Hooker, was as incompetent as Bazaine in 1870. They may admit to being unlucky and rolling too many ones, or not getting the right cards in card activated games, but they would never admit to just being out thought and outfought.

In fact, most war-game designs that gamers find attractive, protect them in many ways from the embarrassment of just being soundly beaten. The rules provide many buffers, and layers, that allow them an “out” and excuse for the unfortunate outcome of a table-top battle. It is a long established tradition of wargaming for the analysis of the battle over beers that allows all sides the opportunity to claim bad luck, unfortunate timing, or an ill-written rules for any failures, and not themselves. The ultimate denial of responsibility for a loss is, of course, “The rules suck!”

The other truism is that many gamers want rules that constrain choices, and present a limited and unambiguous decision matrix. If they know the rule, and they apply it correctly, they want a predictable and expected outcome with tiny risk of variable results. They want to limit surprises, or the unexpected, as much as possible. They very much want to reinforce the advantages of knowing the arcane details of rules, and special application of a little known rules, so that their expertise and lawyer-like knowledge of the rulebook becomes a dominant factor is victory.

In my experience, war gamers may be the most risk-adverse people in the world!

All of his is totally unlike the actual experience of war that we find in reading their actual history, especially in the accounts of the actual participants as they are immersed in a battle’s unfolding narrative.

In my article on Piquet’s theoretical basis, I have previously discussed the many ways that gamers tolerate game conditions, especially the psychological conditions, that are totally at odds with the actual experience of command in battle. These range from helicopter views of the exact units on the table, their location, and movement, to obsessively limited and predictable combat outcomes (in the most extreme form this leads to the board game behavior of counting and stacking units to achieve the exact CRT odds that guarantee victory, much like a tax accountant calculates your tax bill). That article is still found on the Piquet website.

In Piquet, my design goal was to take gaming in a new direction that made the MANAGEMENT of unpredictability and surprise, and, yes, even unfairness and unequal opportunity, the prime goal of the gamer. It was not getting perfect odds, or making the perfect move with perfect intelligence, but in dealing with the vagaries of chance, estimations of threats, the inability to respond to every circumstance, the unfairness of the current situation and finding ways to turn events to your advantage and then to victory. This is what good generals do.

It also upset many gamers who had never in their lives actually managed anything, or any group of people. Gamers who had more of a desire to be a perfect general, with the limitation of risk to a mere die-roll here or there as a minimal concession to chance, and lacked any ability at seeing the big picture. They were detail people-details of buttons, weapons, and rule 12.0741 on page 58, not people comfortable with either ambiguity or abstraction. This was not surprising, since the last thing may people want is to be reminded of their actual capabilities, and instead, instead, be reinforced in an imaginary success and securing victories they seldom find in real life.

If anything, I was shocked at the number of people in wargaming that accepted the challenge in Piquet, and supported it so strongly. Even then, there was always a tendency to temper the pure distillation of the concept and make it “fairer” and to provide gamers with a more traditional move-countermove-equality of opportunity, and more limited range of combat outcomes. In more extreme forms, the variants became as rigid and obvious in their decision matrix as any other war-game and risk was once again relegated to a back seat. To use a metaphor I’ve used before; The Chess elements won out over the Poker elements in the design.

I see Die Fighting as a design to once again address the themes I started with Piquet, but from another direction. Instead of limiting opportunity for taking actions, as I did with the Sequence deck in Piquet, I came at the problem as one of limiting the degree of capability in taking each action, whether movement or combat, in Die Fighting.

Capability in war-games is usually measured in a few standard ways. When one can move a unit, how far one can move a unit, how much and how far a unit can project its effect on the enemy, and how well a unit can withstand that effect. Victory is usually determined by one army has either taken a certain stated objective, has eliminated the enemy, and/or his capability to reach his objectives.

In the simplest war-games, that capability is rigidly defined as I move-you move; Movement is rigidly stated as “Infantry moves 4” and Cavalry 12”” or something similarly stated, weaponry reaches certain points usually scaled to a stated able top scale, and has effect that is usually expressed as an attritional elimination of a figure or stand. In early wargaming the games were usually fought to the last man, until that became absurdly atypical of battle, and morale rules were introduced to allow units to rally, reconstitute, and reform and some sort of arbitrary loss ratio was created to declare one side a victor. Objectives were usually also simple; eliminate the enemy army on the tabletop.

Except, in every battle report by contemporary participants movement is not very predictable, distances covered are wildly removed from any sure D=T*D formula, weaponry performance, in all periods, is, while more predictable in the aggregate, is often extremely variable at the front line, often occurring at the extremes and not at the norm. Losses and retreats are on a local minor tactical level-NOT attritional, but sudden and immediate. Most of all the behavior of armies as a total force is not minutely controllable to either side, only less so to the losing side. Their orders may be specific. Their tactics may be drilled. The plan may be agreed to, BUT , as Clausewitz remarked, no plan remains unchanged beyond the first round fired.

In short, a mechanistic treatment of battle as found in all too many war-games misses the main, most obvious, aspects of battle in terms of confusion, human foibles and failures, the capability to manage variables, and the acceptance of risk. it builds a false impression of battle, that it is a formula, a mere assembly of assets and clever moves, that when perfectly done, leads to success. Learning the rules well becomes more important than managing often uncontrollable behaviors of individuals and units, and dealing with variables, both adverse and favorable, as they occur.

There are many ways these behavioral effects and variables may be portrayed in a war game design. Before I continue, I must remind any readers that I have a point of view. That does not make me right or those that prefer other solutions wrong-but it does determine what I choose to design and play. It is also true that, after 50 years of playing war-games, I’ve come to a point where i don’t have time for some aspects of gaming that are frankly just not that interesting to me. I will probably never play any miniature game that has a classic move-countermove turn structure, fixed movement rates, fixed turn sequences, or unlimited capacities for any of the above actions.

With that disclaimer, let me elaborate on Die Fighting.

Card Sequencing

I retained the concept of card sequencing first used in Piquet, but changed it noticeably. Card sequencing adds a great deal to every game that uses it. Foremost is the breaking up of time into sequences with varying degrees of unpredictability. It also allows the insertion of unique events. Where Die Fighting shines is the toolkit it gives in this area. Die Fighting has simplified the sequence deck into six elements that are constant in makeup, but allows a number of different uses of the deck for sequencing ranging from a near-conventional fixed sequence, to random sequencing, to mixtures of asymmetrical sequencing not seen in many other rules. It begs to be tinkered with, and provides some really clever means to illustrate the quality of command control of the entire army. It is simple, but the variations are very complex. I offer suggestions in the rules as to some period applications, as a guideline, but , depending on the scenario, nature of the competing armies, and for that matter, the number of gamers playing, any of the methods, plus some to be yet invented could be used.

This requires some thought by the scenario writer, and the gamers, but allows tailoring the game in some very exciting ways. It is the one area that many new gamers don’t think of as intently as I had hoped. My suggestions in DF are just that and not meant to be hard and fast dictates on which sequencing should be used. I am particularly fascinated with asymmetrical move sequences, where the two armies are not totally in sync in the move sequence. Aside from reflecting the chaotic narrative of most battles, it adds great drama to the game, while avoiding all sorts of movement “special Rules” found in many rules to deal with who moved first, or where in the move sequence units meet. Die Fighting makes that clear and certain.

Variable Movement

Rolling for distance moved is one of the primary variable limitations in capacity in Die Fighting. You never know the exact distance a unit may move. This means in the aggregate sou know about how far an infantry or cavalry unit, but because of everything from small fluctuations in ground not reflected on most tabletop billiard-like surfaces, but present on every battlefield, to small inefficiencies of training and command, the actual distance traveled will vary, sometimes exceeding all expectations, and other times falling miserably short. Die Fighting’s “Charge” Rule also makes the charge into physical contact by cavalry, or infantry less of a perfunctory thing, and open to both the glorious moment and the “high water mark” failure of a Picket.

Using distance as time, as the Rule of Six does, underscores the interrelation of those elements. Coupled with variable movement, mounting cavalry, dismounting, maneuvering, and deployment, all assume added risk and are not just a mechanistic surety.

Significance of Officers

Many war-gamers get so caught up in the details of weaponry, drill, and the often meaningless minute differences between armies (especially in the Horse and Musket era) that they accent these characteristics beyond all reason, and minimize the effect of the greatest single determinate of victory-the officer corps! Though Commanders in Chief get their due, many a rule set under-represents what I think is a chief determinate of victory the command structure, as represented by the officer corps-on the brigade level and the command level. Die Fighting does not. The use of the Command Dice is absolutely crucial to success. The Red resource dice are a fixed element in every action, the Green “Free” dice are the same for both armies in a given situation, BUT the command dice not only vary in amount, but are the key means for compensating for disadvantages, or insuring an advantage in a crucial actions. The placement of the command figures (and their dice) on the battlefield is key. Their judicious use within a turn is critical. No worse feeling than to have used up the command dice, just when you need them most. The use of the command dice for movement and morale is every bit as important as in combat. Movement uses are often not given the weight they should be by gamers, especially early in the battle when key objectives are to be gained.

These dice, coupled with the “personalities” given to officers, are key in initial deployments and the implementation of plans. Officers in DF are very important. Very important!

Catastrophic Effects on the Tactical Level

I hate attritional combat systems. I find war-games where the two forces lock grips and then push each other, over a voluminous number of die-rolls, back and forth a few inches, until one side loses “X” number of points, figures, etc. as excruciatingly boring. To be sure, many battles had some element of attritional combat-especially in attacks on towns, structures, or in sieges of forts, but most battles were far more fluid with a number of quick clashes at disparate points along an attack front, with much to and fro, until one side noticeably recoiled. They were seldom locked in combat-hand to hand - for any appreciable length of time, but engaged in separate distinct attacks-often quickly settled, that, in aggregate, determined whether one side o the other would advance. This is especially true of horse and musket periods and later.

Die Fighting handles this very well as the range of die results can be very wide, but with the ability to pay for minor loss with Resource dice, and the judicious use of Command dice, these extremes can be handled-for a while…But, eventually, a result that exceeds 6 will cause a noticeable retreat, and with the new Catastrophic Loss rule, a complete removal! The game delivers decisive results and not some muddling on of interminable combat. This is entirely consistent with the fact that a turn is scaled time and illustrates anywhere from a half-hour to hour of elapsed time and that most combat will have some sort of resolution on a local front in that time span.

This is achieved with no necessity for either figure or stand removal, except in the case of catastrophic loss of a whole unit.


The Diminution of Capability-Counter-balanced by Achievement of Objectives.

This is the primary innovation of Die Fighting. It is the source of the biggest misunderstandings and the loudest objections. It also, when properly implemented, is one of the few rules sets to capture a key aspect of battles, the exhaustion and loss of capability by one (or both) sides to carry on a battle.

First of all, YOU DO NOT NEED HUNDREDS OF DICE! A simple Chessex “box” of 30 for the Yellow, Black, and Green mini dice will do for the non-resource dice. even as few as 50 red resource dice would be fine for each side, but with the use of a dice roster for the red dice, as few as a dozen resource dice a side would do. I, personally, like the convenience of each side having 100 or 150 dice in a “bucket”per side ( A cost of less than $30 from Amazon). It is also very satisfying to hear dice being lost by the enemy.

What the dice do is put a limit on capacity to offer battle for the entire army. In a way they represent the energy, morale, and casualties of the army in one common measure. They put a price on every movement, every decision to offer battle, every troop that is rallied. Every action costs something of the army infrastructure, until a point is reached that the army can do no more. This is seldom handled by other rules other than as an arbitrary number or morale point. What those approaches lack, that Die Fighting possesses, is a sure linkage between decisions to take actions, whether movement, combat, or morale and an immediately observable cost.

If a commander is too unfocused in his attacks and moves about willy-nilly and attacks targets that are not critical to victory, he is the equivalent of a wastrel spending his father’s wealth, until there is no more. He will run out of capacity before his opponent and lose. The Die Fighting Resource Dice concept imposes a gradually increasing cost to every action and every decision, that over the game, if done unwisely ,will leave him at a great disadvantage to an enemy that is focused, economical in his use of force, and measured in his commitment of units. These are the basic tenets of commanders throughout history! It also is hard to escape the consequences of our decisions.

It does require balancing the expenditure of resource dice by an attacker with a reward of dice for capturing objectives and destroying enemy units. That is, the attack costs more dice than the defense in most situations (if for no other reason than the attacker is spending dice to move forward), so he must be rewarded for they endeavor by dice being returned to him by the taking of an objective. As with most battles, a number of local objectives taken, gradually contribute to the battle being won.

I call this establishing a rate of exchange in the battle scenario. It has been the part of Die Fighting that needs the most exploration and the most thought. In the original rules i offered some suggested rates of exchange, that were not sufficient, or interesting enough, when tested over time in our games. I have considerably fleshed this area out in the article found in the yahoo! sites file section “Die Fighting Materials”on Rules for Objective Placement and Values. This is getting very close to the mark. The area is not one that is easily codified for every battle scenario, and requires a bit of art as well as science, but one soon gets a sense of the proper value assignments and placement after a game or two. The ability for some creative people to create inventive objectives and their values is a very intriguing aspect of the rules. In the WSS period, for instance, I added the moving objective of the train to the defense objectives.

The best effect is that a definitive end to the game is provided by the empty bucket of the losing side, unless the inevitability of that outcome is such that an earlier concession is made.

The Crafting of Battles

The above section hints at the amazing capacity of Die Fighting to craft a battle scenario. By the judicious choice by the scenario designer of the Card Sequencing method for either or both sides, the number of objectives in either player’s zones or the neutral zone, the assignment of their multiple values, and the valuation of the commanders and their number, he can use far more subtle and effective means of crafting the game experience for the gamers involved than just the number and rated quality of units, and the placement of terrain that most rules allow. Die Fighting does this with a minimum of special rules in play, very few tables or special rules, and fairly straightforward and simple game mechanics.

Die Fighting is an open invitation to creative scenario designers. I intend to do an additional blog entry on the differences between one on one or two on two game play and large group gaming with DF-along with a small 1 on 1 game battle report in the next few days.


Die Marching!



Vanguard-MegScan-111001-0001

Die Marching actually began its development process over a year ago, in a form that has morphed and changed steadily over the last year. Initially, I intended to publish Die Marching last year, but, instead, and fortunately, chose to do both Die Fighting and Zouave II first. Quite apart from both rule sets selling well, especially Die Fighting, the process of developing those games led me to several new ideas and mechanisms that have improved Die Marching, and make it a terrific game.

What is Die marching? Well, it is a campaign game, but VERY unique in its design. It allows gamers to generate several different kinds of maps for fictitious campaigns, historical campaigns, campaigns in unknown territories that combines exploration with combat, simple campaigns to be played over a few hours, or mega-campaigns that last for months. The odds of any two generated maps being the same are astronomically small-you’ll win the lottery before a map repeats!

Die Marching may be played in any horse and musket period, and will be readily adaptable to periods from ancients to WWII once the mechanisms are understood. I’m even contemplating a fantasy/sci-fi version! Various turns of the game may be played out in DIFFERENT periods! Yes, you can, if you so choose, fight the battles in several different periods, while the results could be integrated into the same larger campaign! This allows you to fight one battle in the SYW, and the next battle could be done using your ACW troops! The system makes sure the results are consistent and credible-regardless. Doing a single period will be the preferred option for most gamers, but some may find this “twist” great fun!

Die Marching includes provisions for optional naval action, as well as the creation and use of railroads in the later 19th century. It includes political, as well as military, leadership considerations, and focuses on resources, strategic decisions, and not just two armies blundering into each other for a disappointingly quick, one battle, campaign resolution. Optional, weather patterns and effects are provided, and are just as patterned but unpredictable, as the real thing!

The game occurs in campaign years, with four seasons, wherein possibilities for various actions vary. Each season has a variable number of turns within it. The two opposing forces may not have equal opportunity in any given campaign season, but the possibilities are always fluctuating for the armies as their resources and plans unfold.

The campaign may be played just on the map, as every battle may be resolved either on the map or on the table top, completely at the choice of the gamers. The table-top games will have forces, terrain, and tactical advantages stated for the gamers-simply and logically. Results from either resolution method are interchangeable to the campaign system. More importantly, ANY tactical rule set may be used for the table top game, though, of course, specific recommendations for Die Fighting, Zouave II, and, yes, (with Brent Oman’s permission) Piquet, and FOB2, will be provided within the rules. But, to repeat, any rule set may be adapted.

The system allows great flexibility in miniature army size as it is agnostic when it comes to the tabletop battle rules used. It is unaffected by army unit’s size or organization. Historical, semi-historical, or fictional OOB’s my be used.

Die marching includes systems, including notation, for long distance play via email and Skype. Campaigns may be played between gamers living on different continents! Whether played face to face, or at great distance, the fog of war is amply, and simply, provided. Exactly where is the enemy? How large are his forces? How good are his units, his military leaders, his political will?

Most of all it is very easy and simple to play, but complex in decision making and planning-you can’t do everything, nor can you answer every enemy action. Your possibilities are limited by your resources and decisions. The tools used are commonly, and cheaply available, or are provided with the rules. These tools are:

  • A set of Double 12 Dominos
  • D6 dice in several contrasting colors (red,yellow,green, and black)
  • A Campaign Rondel*
  • A set of paired colored pawns or paper markers(2 Red, 2 Yellow, 2 White, 2 Green, 2 Blue, 2 Black)
  • A Set of Army OB Sheets (these are primarily for reference)*
  • Each gamer has a set of 6 Army Posture cards*
  • Player aid sheet*
  • Optional small blue and black stickers*
  • The rule booklet*

(Asterisked items are provided with the rules.)

The game is not difficult or involved to play-on the level of a very simple board game-such as House Divided, maybe simpler. It requires little or no record keeping or intricate “supply” tracking. Of all the things mentioned by gamers on the Yahoo! forum these last two were the strongest no-no’s! The supply system used is simple and Excel sheet free!

The Yahoo forum will be used to post some full color add-ons to the strategic map, that I think people will find fun. The forum will be used, as it is now, for strong support for gamers to ask questions and propose new ideas.

The physical package will be a rule booklet of comparable size and production values to Die Fighting and Zouave II. It will include the army posture cards, a full color Campaign Season rondel, and color stickers, The roster and player aid sheets will be included in text for photocopying. Tentative price remains at $29.95. Discounts will be offered to past purchasers of either Die Fighting! or Zouave II as part of a pre-publication pricing, I anticipate sending it to the printers, and offering the pre-pub sale in late October or very early November, and posting it to customers in early December. Merry Christmas!




Repique Skype call: Die Fighting!

This is the Repique Skype Call of 3/19/11 recorded at 8:00 AM on that date. It discusses the development process for Die Fighting!, some rule interpretations, the design philosophy, and the use of the Concede and Factor X cards. It is 45:17 in length. Just hit the podcast button below:

die Fightimng package



Podcast

An Idea to Play With!

I’m doing some preliminary work on the Die Marching! Campaign rules ( when not doing the Colonial Template for DF, and the Zouave II work) and in the midst of it came up with an idea that I thought might be of interest to all you new “Die Fighting!” aficianados. Since my plate is very full, I’m not really in a position, at the moment, to fully develop the idea, but I thought some of you might just want to take the idea and run with it.

All I ask is that any ideas, or developments you try that you are happy with get reported back to the assembled Die Fighters on the forum!

The idea is this: In setting up a DF game for maximum fun, use one of the unique characteristics of the game, the limited dice resource, to “even up” the scenario, or add hidden spice to the initial set-up.

1.
The Wellington Option: If one side has a dice advantage, give a terrain, or group of terrains-Hills, forest, etc.- to the lesser side that is on their side of the board, and perhaps occupied by them at game start, that either partially or fully evens the “theoretical” die count- A 15 dice point hill, a 10 dice point wood, a 5 point wall, etc. Since the lesser side will find the defensive posture attractive, their “evening out” terrain additions will be welcome. Either an umpire, the scenario writer, Game Master, or the defensive player may determine their location.

It’s even better when you don’t let the attacker(side with the most dice) know the exact point values assigned.

2.
Grouchy is coming!: Let either side roll up to 20 resource dice ,which are then lost for the game resource bucket, in one clump, any 6s are “reinforcements” Cull out and Reroll the 6s--evens are infantry, Odds for Cavalry or Artillery. Re-roll the evens: 1=Militia, 2,3.4=regulars 5= Elites, 6=Guard Infantry-then rate. Re-roll the Odds 1,2= Light cavalry, 3 Heavy cavalry, 4= Light artillery battery, 5= Heavy artillery battery- then rate.

Any roll of 6 on an odd die indicates the previously rolled cavalry have gone on a Jeb Stuart gallop, or the guns have gotten mired on a bad back road and will only arrive when their army commander rolls 4 identical dice on any single initiative, movement, or combat roll during the game.

This is the reinforcing force. Place the Creative X factor card in the phase deck in place on any other phase. When it is played, or comes up randomly, and IF the army gets the initiative, each side rolls 1 D6-if the army attempting reinforcement is the high roller, the reinforcements enter and their worth in dice is added to the army resource bin. Once they arrive the card is removed from play. If they don’t arrive- that is, The army loses the initiative, or the D6 roll-then the card is retained. If the roll-off between D6s is a tie, the reinforcements never enter, and the card is removed!

For entry point, 1= Far left, 2,3= Center, 4= Far Right 5= Mid Left, 6=Mid Right

Something for you guys to muse upon.

Serendipity in Game Design

I suppose if someone has never designed a rule set, or has done so on a very limited basis, they could easily get the idea that game design is somehow like a math problem, or writing a term paper. You do the research, form your hypothesis, and then assemble it all into a proper form with thesis, evidence, conclusion. It’s an exercise in logic, systems, and precision more like a report than anything else.

Well, no it isn’t-not by half!

At least not in my experience, it’s not. Rule smithing is far closer in nature to writing a novel or poem, or a creating a painting. It is a creative task, where, indeed, you read and study, but translating it into the final product is a work of imagination. The goal, in reality, is not to replicate warfare in a given period. Nor is it to generate data that can be tested, and then used to improve the tactical practices of an army-especially one that ceased to exist hundreds of year’s ago. It is an entertainment, and its goal, just as a novel or good movie, is to create the illusion of “real history” in the mind of the audience, in this case, wargamers. Entertainments, must, in the case of historical wargames, have a goal of giving a strong impression of historicity and the ability to teach a few of the primary considerations of warfare in any given period. If they lack this quality they are rejected for being insufficiently historical, and rightfully so. But all wargames, including historical wargames, must also entertain, be fun, and engender surprise, and even a good laugh now and then.

In the past, historical wargames got too full of themselves, and became too pedantic, too didactic, and ignored the entertainment demands in an effort to become “serious” simulations. They became so labored and such a task for gamers that it was little surprise that fantasy games (that have no such responsibility to history, and simulation becomes in every sense irrelevant) blossomed as an alternative. Even the historical wargames of the late 80s and early 90s began a rebellion against the heavy footed games of the 70s, and became simpler, faster, and with more than a little fun being an object of the designs.

By the mid-to late 90s a whole range of historical games that were historical and entertaining became the norm that we see today. Certainly designs such as Hasenauer’s, Mustafa’s, and my own Piquet opened up whole new directions in design for the historical gamer.

Now the designer has a much wider range of options for his designs, and gamers are, on the whole, much more accepting of “different” approaches than they may have once been-as long as history remains a strong element, and fun is not a casualty. It is the golden age for historical wargame design, just as many believe it is the golden age of figure design.

One example of the fun element in my latest design, Die Fighting!, is the discarding of dice that have been “used”, and another is the novel use of phasing and initiative in the game. I think they provide not just some novel approaches to modeling armies, but also some real fun and surprises.

Serendipity plays a big role in wargame design, and as I was putting the finishing touches on the Die Fighting! phase cards that are included in the set, two new ideas came to my mind, that I simply had to include in the game. They are additions to what is already an extensive toolbox that you guys will have fun tinkering with, and designing your own DF scenarios and “house rules.” The idea occurred to me after I had sent the rules to the printer and approved the print run, but I was still designing the player aids and phase cards-SO... I redesigned the phase card sheet to include two new cards-“Concede” and “X Factor.” They aren’t covered in the rules, but they will both be fully explained in the file section of the RepiqueRules Yahoo! site on the day the rules are mailed from the World-Wide Repique Rules Headquarters (AKA Chez Jones). They are additional fun game tools, and an example of how easily Die Fighting! can be tweaked and nudged.

So when the rules arrive, and you see those two “extra” cards, just look to the forum to see what serendipity can provide-and think about what you could add to Die Fighting! as well!

Go forth and be serendipitous!Happy

The "Missing" Terrain

As I was sitting here and thinking about terrain on our wargame table tops, it occurred to me that most table tops, and wargame rules, ignore one prominent terrain type: The depression, that slight fold of land that gives cover to a battalion to brigade of troops. Whenever one goes out and strolls the battlefields of the US or Europe, one is constantly struck by how little it takes to completely cover a large number of troops from either vision or fire effects, or both! waterloo was a revelation to me in that regard.

All wargames have rules to cover hills, ridges, even mountains, and their effects on vision and combat are well understood, as are forests, rivers, hedgerows, and structures, but the “lowly” depression is rather overlooked. Most areas of the battlefield lacking a vertical terrain element are treated as the perfectly flat and open area of fuzzy green where combat is not effected-and units of toy soldiers are victims of thundering die rolls. Yet, when we walk the fields where battles did occur, the area of absolutely flat, baize green, open ground is, as I said above, a rarity.

It is hard to go any distance on a battlefield without some obvious ridge line, or forest, blocking vision, but equally limiting is the modest 3-6 foot “swell” or the similar “dip” in the ground. Many a battle report mentions troops that suddenly found themselves in a “dead zone” where enemy shot and shell could not easily reach them. In some cases, they so completely fell from sight the enemy didn’t even know they were there! It was not unusual that this safe zone could be very close to the enemy lines, especially in the terrain of North America during the ACW.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of material on the War of Spanish Succession, and the number of quotes about troops finding refuge in a slight fold of ground, or cavalry closing on a line because its fire was somewhat diminished by a dip in the ground to their front that reduced their fire effect, are plentiful. Even as late as the FPW, the cover in the Mance Ravine was a godsend to the Prussians-and it was impossible to get them to leave it!

So, what I am instituting in my wargames from now on are irregular pieces of darker green felt usually with their long axis parallel to the contesting lines, but not always, placed in certain areas of the ever so flat tabletop, that denote a depression, a dip of ground below the general ground level denoted by the table surface. It can be rated just as other terrain as a Class I or II terrain effect, and may, or may not, have effect on movement. Certainly the more cover it gives the greater the chances that it would mildly impede movement. Its combat inhibiting effects, might be rolled for the first time a unit fires at another unit in the depression-so that neither side would know for certain its total effect prior to that first combat. It could also be a place that a scenario could “hide” a unit that the other side would not know about until it left the cover of that fold of earth. It would be another terrain element for an attacker and defender to consider, and would breakup the monotony of the billiard table battlefield.

Even better, it would easily illustrate an element of wargame terrain that has disappeared from view! How Depressing! Winking

A Die Fighting Battle Report

For those of you that missed its initial release, here’s Tony Fryer’s spirited account of a Die Fighting playtest held in November, 2010:

http://wargamebayou.blogspot.com/2010/11/die-fighting-battle-report.html


Enjoy! Any questions concerning the report may be asked at the Zouave Yahoo! Forum. This forum may be reached by clicking on the link in the left hand sidebar of this website.

No Remounting Required!

If there is a more onerous chore in all of wargaming than remounting an army, I cannot think what it might be. A good firend of mine commented that he’s done it three times for his Napoleonic armies, and remounting over a thousand figures often took him months of work. With the average half-life of 90% of the wargame rules out there being about five years, you’d better be VERY sure that you like a set of rules before making this commitment!

What has always struck me is how completely unnecessary remounting should be in this hobby. It results from one of the continuing bad ideas in design and false perception of many gamers. That idea is that organization structures and minor tactics below the batllaion level ever really mattered in the 18th and 19th century. This sort of thinking probably originated for many people with Fred Vietmeyer’s old “Column, Line, and Square” Rules which carefully denoted the variances in number of companies and used an idealized muster for each company. It became very important to reflect these lower level organizations down to a single figure. Of course, these musters varied from army to army, and were, in themselves, idealized “averages”.

But the idea caught on, mostly, I believe, because it allowed some wargamers the pedantic joy of quibbling about the various relative company structures of all armies. That and the arcane arguments about various unit frontages splitting measurements down to the last meter of ground are caviar to quasi-scholars. What was never really proven is that it made a shred of difference in a battles outcome! It did mean that as the figure ratios changed by the scope of the game design, or the scale of the figures, each set of rules would represent these company/ stands in a slightly different manner-both in the size of the stand and the number of figures on it, and also insist that if you were going to play the game-you HAD to remount your figures to suit.

How much simpler it is to simply state that X number of stands are a unit, and use that abstracted “unit” to represent , say 500-700 men-roughly a battalion( or a regiment or a division-depending on the game’s design level and ground scale) and move on!

Now most game designs are heading that way and deliberately abstracting the company and battalion structures-simply to allow gamers to try a set of rules without going through the laborious chore of remounting. Even better, the designers seem to be moving away from the misleading and meaningless insistence on all manner of minor drill and the value of drill regulations as an integral-or even accurate and meaningful-representation of battle. Maybe there is progress in wargaming, rather than repetitious circular reasoning by people that are simply reinventing the wheel every 10-20 years!

Never remount-except for aesthetic reasons; Never play rules that insist you do! Call that Jones’ First law of War games.

Break Through Designs

I’ve been in wargaming for over 45 years, and in that time I’ve played many boardgames and table top miniature games in all periods, though mostly historical. During that time, I’ve seen hundreds of games played, and read dozens of commercial wargame rules. Just as in everything in life, most of these games have been unremarkable in their design, derivative in their mechanics, and often downright copies (and totally uncredited) of other designs.

But every once in a while a truly innovative and unusual design comes along. It often changes the paradigm for games, and offers new challenges and insights into both the history of battles, but also in the way it is portrayed in the artifice we call a wargame.

In my mind, a few stand out over the years; Cosmic Encounter by Eon that first introduced the game with different rules for each player, Quebec 1759 that introduced the “Block” game, Ace of Aces that wonderful little flip-book design of WWI combat, and Avalon Hill’s Up Front! Card game, as well as Richard Borg’s Battle Cry and its derivatives, all stand out in the board game arena.

In historical gaming, one looks to Empire as the first “Big” wargame, boxed and more comprehensive that any that preceded it. It set the physical form for many games that followed. I think my own Piquet was, and is, a new and inspiring design that led to many supplements covering all of military history as well as FOB and Zouave. It opened the tabletop game to the unique use of the sequence deck. Certainly Fire and Fury’s treatment of large divisional battles is another memorable design that has also led to many derivative rule sets in other periods, both earlier and later than F&F’s Civil War focus. The skirmish approach of Crossfire is, to this day, a real testament to creative design.

The telling characteristic of all of these designs is originality of mechanics, fun and enjoyment by the players, and unique insights into combat and the how and why of armed conflict. They were all originals, fresh ideas, quite apart from the ”norm” of their day. Several invoked controversy and strong reactions. All were financially successful for the publisher.

But the most telling impact was on the designs that followed. In a sense, all of these unique designs were offered that most sincere of compliments-being copied in part or whole by later game designs. In some cases the lineage was openly recognized, but all too often attribution of ideas, and honest accreditation were woefully absent.

It is a curious quirk of wargaming that its history is so sketchy and full of myth and low on fact. If ever a hobby was in need of a scholarly history it’s wargaming. Because it is lacking, we have unchallenged regional biases as to that history: great designers, such as the man who designed that fine WWI air game, Sopwith, who go largely unknown and uncredited, and many a bad design whose sole attribute seems to be a large number of people that play it. Rule critiques often not only lack any historical perspective, but any intellectual rigor, honesty, and, more than is openly admitted, are rife with self-interest and undisclosed relationships.

So, we muddle on in a sea of banality and “latest” fads in rules. Thank heavens for that occasional break-through wargame, that illustrates everything that is missing in wargame design, comes along and, against all odds, injects new life into the hobby of wargaming.

The Soul of a Game

The last 10 days has been a blur of writing on my new ruleset-Die Fighting! The words have literally jumped unto the page, and though they will undoubtedly be adjusted, tweaked, and modified by the play tests, it has surprised me more than anyone at how quickly this has come together. The core ideas for Piquet were very quickly captured on paper, but not as fast as Die Fighting! has leapt to mind.

Why are some rules months or years in their creation, and others just “happen?”

As with many things, I have a theory.

It all is driven by the key central concept of a set of rules. If that concept is clever, is a good game mechanic, and delivers a new game experience-great! But if that concept also, unifies, integrates, and forms a basis for all the other peripheral rules-it becomes a creative force and its own editor.

It edits the rest of the rule structure because the many ideas that occur to the designer either fit, or don’t fit the central concept. It makes decisions on where to take a set of rules easy!

The whole development of Piquet in terms of supplements, how adjustments were made by period, even down to the titles of every supplement were laid out from the very beginning as anyone can see by simply looking at the fly page. That concept of transferring the game sequence to the random fall of cards, and powering it with widely variable impetus, immediately allowed the complete rule structure to be fleshed out very quickly. Some of the supplements, such as Cartouche and Band of Brothers were written in their basic forms over a holiday vacation.

Surely, other people could come along and tweak, as well as adding new creative ideas and directions to those core rules, but the rules had a central idea and internal consistency-with all the game mechanics very integrated with each other.

Zouave, which I am very proud of, is very different. It was more of an aggregated rule set. There was a central idea of splitting the command and Action, but making them dependent on each other, that drove the rule writing, but Zouave was more like designing two games that played simultaneously on the same table! This was a VERY demanding design to make work. It is a very demanding design to play well.

Many people, without the prompting of a fixed sequence, or cards that literally tell you, as Piquet does, “This is what you’re going to Move now!” may find themselves not setting priorities, or seeing the big picture-especially when new to the game. Zouave uses many of the ideas of Piquet but takes away the organizing structure provided by the unit delimited cards. Just as Piquet took away the surety of the fixed turn, so Zouave takes away the decision-making crutch that demands that the gamer consider his infantry, or cavalry to the exclusion of all else.

Getting the correct interaction in Zouave was very difficult. I also think Zouave gets better, like a good wine, with time and play. It is also very focused on the mid-19th century, and is not intended to expand much further that the period 1840-1895. Both designs are about decision making-more than just combat resolution where most rules tend to concentrate most of their action.

Die Fighting! brings back a more structured phased turn-with a twist. It also puts immediate pressure on the gamer to achieve his goals since his ability to take actions and command his troops diminishes as the battle goes on. It uses NO cards-none. I guess you could say it is a “Dice Driven” game design. It is incredibly simple to play-all you have to do is count to 4 and add dice totals. But it is wicked mean.

It is also a design that could very easily be adapted to Tournaments and (Heaven Forbid!) WAGERING (Among friends, of course)! Actual firm, comparative scores may be kept! It is historical, covering the period 1700-1900, but the mechanisms could easily be adapted to SF or fantasy. It can be learned in 10 minutes, but will demand some really astute decision making and prioritizing.

It is very much in the tradition of Charge! and Featherstone, but is a very demanding game to play and has a sure winner. No arguing later at the pub or bar about who “would have” won, or quibbling about the degree of victory. It will have a score as firm as baseball. In fact, stats may be kept!

But best of all, it is almost writing itself! I suspect the ghosts of Stevenson and Wells are lurking about, and maybe the Cincinnati Kid!

The Soul of Die Fighting!

The Vision of Battle

A long discussion on the Repique Rules Yahoo! Forum started me reflecting on one of the curious aspects of wargaming-the mind’s eye. We all agree that a historical wargame should in some way, in addition to being a fun game, provide an observation of what happened in battles. It should provide a satisfactory “illusion” to the gamers of observing a battle. We are all together on that concept, except, having said that, we have a wide range of opinions about the nature of battle in a given period, and one man’s mind’s eye sees a far different picture with different hues, focus, and perspectives. I dare say if we put a dozen Napoleonic or ACW wargamers in a room that the range of what they think of as “historically correct” would provide twelve different views of the battle. To be sure several would overlap, but the range of divergence would be pretty wide!

I think this is counter-balanced by a certain tendency for groups of gamers to come to a “consensus” view of battle that they all generally agree is accurate, and then they want the rules they play to look like their vision. Great, except what if that vision is more consensus than history?

One of the great truisms of the ACW is that the commanders on both sides tried to fight in the Napoleonic style, only to find out that it was a pretty deadly way to conduct war. The changes in weaponry made the Napoleonic tactics pretty inefficient and the battlefield very lethal. The war is a history of troops unofficially dispersing from their rigid formations, earthworks and trenches being thrown up, and terrain cover becoming the soldier’s best friend. By late 1863 the Napoleonic tactics were pretty firmly discredited, but many troops-especially the green ones and the new commanders probably fell back on the “Book.” until their first battle when they more closely observed the actions of their more veteran compatriots.

I think wargamers have done the same! The tactics encouraged by many ACW wargame rules owe more to Napoleonic forms, Currier and Ives prints of glorious attacks, and movie romanticizations of ACW combat than to the more lethal reality that forced the real commanders back into dispersed tactics and trenches. Rules allow the “fiction” of the gallant upright attack in firm lines leading to the melee that allows the victor to stream through the enemy line. In short, the rules play to the romantic fantasy of ACW battle that wargamers really want to believe in. This sort of nonsense is especially favored by the Confederate gamers and their alter-ego reenactors who desperately want to invest this terrible war with some form of honor and glory. I think reenactors are equally guilty of really WANTING their little pageants to look like the Harper’s Weekly woodcuts with their pretty little lines of troops, and not look too closely at why frontal attacks were usually bloodily repulsed; why the column gave way to the line, and then to the loose line and finally to the dispersed line, the virtual disappearance of effective cavalry charges and pursuit, and why the trench and hasty earthwork eventually came to dominate the ACW battlefield.

After the battle, I’m sure the description of “gallant” actions and trim lines advancing was a common one, but few soldiers tell the whole truth about their behaviors, and we keep seeing indirect references to going to ground, troops lying prone in the sun for hours not daring to lift their heads, and advancing lines being described as skirmishers, when maybe they were just a line that was reflexively dispersing in order to survive.

The typical wargame and many wargamers are as stuck with as false an understanding of ACW combat as their historical counterparts, and equally incapable of giving up the Napoleonic vision. One of my goals with Zouave is to correct that image and reward actions that mimicked what I believe the troops actually ended up doing given the pragmatic realities of the battlefield, and not the Napoleonic vision and going “by the book.”

Reality bites. Pickett found that out, can wargamers?



Introvert or Extrovert? Both!

Every wargame designer, or writer needs two personalties. He must accept the isolation and solitary rewards of research and writing, which demands the discipline to sit alone with a LCD monitor staring at you as you write for hours on end. This is followed by edits and re-edits until you think you have it right. This is the part of rule design that no one sees. It is unglamorous, demanding, tiring, and requires persistence and a dogged determination to complete the project. Many gamers do not have these qualities and that is why there are infinitely more rule sets that are going to be written than those that are written. The advantage of these unwritten rules is that they are always better than any written set. They are without blemish, fault, or error as they only exist as a perfect object in a single imagination.

But the designer who must write the rules in some passable form of English, knows when he starts the project that, other than the playtesting with friends, he is consigning himself to hours of solitary confinement. Even the playtesting is not really gaming and a real interaction, since the designer must keep himself apart from the gamers and observe the game being played, and the playtester’s body language and actions, as objectively and dispassionately as possible. He is, even in these brief social moments, apart from the group.

But this is only half the equation. For the minute the rules are published a whole different set of skills are required. As introverted and solitary as the creation is, the marketing and interaction with customers is just the reverse! It is highly social and requires ample amounts of flamboyance, patience, a love of people, and not a little bit of show biz and calculation. You literally jump from the monk’s cell to the middle of a boisterous party where you are expected to be a cheery, benevolent, funny, friendly, and a good imitation of a frat brother. It can be shocking!

This is made all the more demanding as each person you meet treats his interaction with you on the basis of that moment, and he’s totally unaware of your tiredness, the often long string of the same, identical, questions that get asked, or even of the truly ridiculous statements that are made to you. No, you are in the sales mode and the smile must never leave your lips! The little easily misunderstood ironic remark or flash of warranted cynicism? Not Allowed!

Rule writing and publishing demands you be BOTH the guy that toils alone in the Ivory Tower, and the hale fellow well met at the basement party! That’s a tough task. Some designers have chosen to shun the social side, and NEVER go to conventions or appear much on their websites or forums. Some can’t stand the solitary part and therefore don’t write much, or fool themselves into thinking rule design is a group project to be created by collaboration. Some form working relationships where they ally with someone with the “missing” skill; A reserved designer allies with a great marketer or public face, or a designer with great concepts that really like the public to and fro, allies with a reserved copywriter that can execute his ideas in written form. Just as in musical partnerships such as Rodgers and Hart or the Gershwin brothers, such linking of the introvert/extrovert skills can be very productive, but they are rare and seldom last long.

But most rules designers are a mix, and how that mix influences what they choose to create, and the nature of the games they design, can be a fascinating reflection on the hobby and the people in it. When you look at the rules created by Sam Mustafa, Jim Getz, Frank Chadwick, Brent Oman, Arty Conliffe, Rich Hasenauer, Rick Priestly, or me, or especially when you meet them, you see this mix of introversion and extroversion, of the two personalities every designer must balance, but each is unique in his fulcrum point, and this is reflected in the way the rules they write are written, the way the rules play, and what mechanics they choose to use. There is a rich variety of approaches that parallels literature. Who’s a Hemingway? Who’s a J.D. Sallinger? In any case, the result gives wargamers some fascinating choices.

The Fog of War

Wargames have always been pretty good at finding ways to assign a quantitative value to weaponry, and even to unit quality. They have been less certain when it came to some intangibles such as unit morale or the impact of command on a particular battle, especially its inefficiencies and inadequacies, But one area has been the bane of many rule sets and that is the fog of war. This term, often attributed to Von Clausewitz, encapsulates all the unknowns, the effects of friction, the failure of communication and military intelligence, the limitations of not knowing key facts about the enemy, but even about one’s own troops. Gamers would worry some little factoid about drill steps per minute to death, and then blithely ignore what EVERY military thinker since Clausewitz concedes is the single most important aspect of war and individual battles, the Fog of War.

Some gamers, worn down in their daily work by limited achievements, or no achievements at all, are loathe to play games in their imaginary wargame world that present them with unknown and uncontrollable ways to fail yet again. Others simply want to have things go unfailingly according to plan, and to succeed or fail strictly on the merits of their strategy, and not because something untoward spoiled everything; They want to be Napoleon at Waterloo, but without those damned Prussians showing up late in the day! Many gamers don’t want the added rule considerations that are required to even attempt to inject the Fog of War into a wargame, just roll a die and a six hits! Your troops will unfailingly show up right on schedule, and do precisely hat you want them to! A perfect world where rationality and predictability reign!

However, War is not at all like that. Armies, even the best of them, have a high capacity for snafu. The enemy generally doesn’t want to please you by being predictable. The battlefield is unfailingly a confusing place with fewer “Knowns” than wargames would lead one to suspect. Most actionable information is deduced from incompletely known facts, and is more a guestimate than a sure thing. Even in battle we often can observe the behavior of enemy troops in a sketchy way, but seldom have a sure idea as to the reasons why. Were those Union guns withdrawing prior to Pickett’s Charge, or was that wishful thinking? Did their artillery fire slacken from damage from the Rebel barrage, or simply to conserve ammunition? Seen through the stress of battle and the black powder smoke, the fog of war allowed an estimation, but not a firm calculation.

Several early attempts to address this issue were made in wargaming; The blanket down the middle of the table during set-up, the command being in two different separate rooms from the Wargame table, and only written notes going back and forth, but they were clumsy, inelegant, and generally more trouble than they were worth. They failed miserably to provide an efficient portrayal of the Fog of War and are now seldom used.

Later methods, some of which are still used, involved boxes placed over troops and/or various markers with a certain share of them being “Dummies”. Somewhat better than earlier methods, but still fairly clumsy, and dummy or not, there are few “surprises” emerging from the Fog.

Piquet tried to do this conceptually, by basically stating that the tabletop “Lied” and that the positions on the table may, or may not, portray the accurate situation. This offered a concurrent explanation for units moving an extreme distance, or not moving at all, and also meant that the player had to allow for things not being what he expected at any given moment-an element of the Fog of War. Surprises were many, and occasionally could change the momentum in a battle. Both the randomness of the Sequence Deck and the impetus roll constantly challenged players to deal with difficult situations with no “Sure” solution. I also liked the fact that this conceptual approach required no added devices on the table, it was free of clutter. It did prove difficult for some gamers to get their head around the idea, and to accept a very different metaphor for time and movement than the fixed turn.

Zouave is taking a different approach, where the randomness is more constrained, using a card deck with its perfectly balanced suit values in a deck for impetus, but dividing impetus or initiative into two separate but concurrent uses-Command and Combat. It also uses ratings of individual units that are hidden until revealed by combat to disguise the value of the forces engaged. Lastly the amount of command “will” and where it is focused, and for what purpose will be imperfectly known. This can be increased by using the Dial Dude’s Zouave Dials, but inverting them during play so that the amount of command pips stored is totally hidden-until used. The last thing that Zouave does is take the length of moves made and makes them highly variable and unpredictable to BOTH sides. The degree that a gamer is willing to “risk” certain moves-if it makes his army disjointed and exposed as a consequence, and not being able to predict either his other units movement distance, or when it will occur-and, even worse, if the enemy can respond before he can consolidate his formations-will be a measure of his decision making and judgement. No guarantees-just the courage to pierce the fog of war!







How Rules Grow Up!

As I launch Zouave out into the world of wargaming, I have the same feelings as when I took my small daughters to their first day at Kindergarten. There is trepidation, a sense of losing total control, and, yet, the hope for a bright future. All rule sets start as a young child, full of promise, and with few blemishes, but they soon begin to grow up and mature. This process is a natural one as more and more people are exposed to the ideas in a set of rules-new ideas spring up, unseen weaknesses in the rule effects, or explanations, are exposed and corrected, and new ideas are generated that lead to amendments, house rules, and new directions within the rules set. There will be glowing praise, and, inevitably, damning criticism from some. It is a time for a game designer that is thrilling and not a little apprehensive!

But it is the course of every rule set, and must be embraced. I created the concept of the toolbox when I wrote Piquet all those years ago. The idea was that a rule set must be open to change, and to the input and desires of the wargame customers. The rules must be robust enough to be tinkered with and crafted into the set that each individual gamer wants. The customer has a role in shaping the rules he plays and is not a passive receptacle of some guru rule designer’s dictates. I think Zouave shares this ability to be experimented with as long as certain core concepts are not too roughly twisted. I encourage each of you to play the game “straight” a few times, ask questions, and feel certain that you understand some of the basic relationships between the various forms of movement and combat elements, before you do too much tinkering. But once you feel you are grounded in the rules, feel free to to do improvisational “riffs” just as a jazz musician might do with a well known musical standard.

And keep in mind , no game designer descends from the mountain with stone tablets on which are engraved the one true word. All sets of rules will be cussed and discussed as people bring separate and unique perceptions to their idea of what a wargame should be. It was often said that my previous design, Piquet, was either loved or hated with no middle ground., to which I say, “GREAT!” It is evidence that it really caught the imagination of some, and was not just one more simple-move and shoot repetition of hundreds of wargame designs that proceeded it. It must have said something unique to garner such strong, and opposite, reactions. One size does not fit all and designs that attempt to do that are like the person you know that never offends and never comes up with a new idea-not a bad person, but, well, not the most interesting person either!

I have no expectations that Zouave will be loved by all, nor do I expect to see it being a preferred convention game. It will be new, offer subtle and creative ways to address the portrayal of large battles and command and control issues. It will deliver an exciting and interesting game. It will challenge gamers to manage variables and not just calculate the optimum outcomes from fixed givens ( the all-too-common characteristic of many wargames). It will reward ( and frustrate) the gamers who play it. It requires judgement, not rote memorization of rules or using protractors to get just the “right” angle.

But I hope, as would any parent, that it is given an opportunity for a good long life, and grows up to be a mature and well respected game design. Starting next week, Zouave will begin its life’s journey!

Why Army Lists Suck!

Army Lists are more recent to rules than most people are aware of. They only really came into being with the advent of DBM style rules, and later manifestations as fantasy rules became popular with younger gamers. They are an easy way for a gamer to go to his favorite miniature provider and follow a recipe without either much knowledge of history, or understanding organization and structures of armies of a given period-he just fills the order, so to speak.

They are also complete and total balderdash!

Now, I have no argument with fantasy gamers using army lists-after all how many elves do make up a band? Who knows what dwarf armies had in the way of artillery? It makes sense that the author of the rules needs to tell you what his imaginary armies were like. Likewise, I have no problem with the tournament ancient gamer who plays DBM or the like, as long as they recognize that their needs are based on the fact that such games are about the tournament and the needs of the game balance, and have little to do with history. In a sense, such games jumped the shark when they went across periods, and huge geographical distances, to pose armies against each other that could never meet in the real world. They are, again, a form of fantasy. A fantasy sheep in history wolves’ clothing, so to speak.

Through most of military history prior to the late 1600s or early 1700s, the armies were largely made up of whoever showed up, and that could vary widely from battle to battle, and circumstance to circumstance. Many of the battles in all periods could be wildly unbalanced in the real world in either quality or numbers. Not so, with the Army List world. In most cases, army lists are not even a good average representation of armies of a period, but, rather, the aggregated average of only 2-3 of the major battles of a given army with a little fudge factor by the designer. Again, in the medieval and even Renaissance periods armies were pretty amorphous in size and make-up, and so some sort of argument might be made that the only way to do even in -period, historical, opponents in battle would be to agree on some mythical “typical” army after examining a few major engagements. So be it. I understand that that is one way to deal with gaming in a period in which standardization was not typical-just impose standardization upon the armies! That is-make it up! Just like Elven archers!

This becomes less defensible when you get to the Horse and Musket period, or later. These armies did have a structure that may be studied. There is no need to posit fantastical opponents from another time and place, they have many historical adversaries and great numbers of battles to study. None of the army structures are terribly hard to find out about or understand. One book on a period that covers the action on a tactical level and you’ve got it! Actual relatively accurate numbers in various units, at various battles, on certain dates can be found in 10 minutes. If you want a generic average of these formations, it is EASY to find and apply. There is NO need for an an extensive body of army lists! None!

Then why do they exist? There are several reasons that suggest themselves. First of all, too many wargames are not based in their design on true army structures-or even armies! They are division sized cock-ups of a few typical troops (usually those with the best uniforms) that fill a 4x6 to 4X8 table. They usually represent all three arms, but even then the army lists strangely over-represent cavalry and under-represent artillery. They are an artificial recipe that is more about working with the rules as written, than matching any historical mix. They have no true connection to historical structures-even abstracted ones. They have “command groups” that fit the rules and the table instead. They are a very effective mechanism for making some people think they are battling with armies, when the forces engaged aren’t even a minimum rear guard.

They also exist for forms of convention play, for the same reason as the ancient tournaments have them-and they are just as ahistorical-maybe more so, since the historical information is more readily available.

They are also a way for Historical Gamers to avoid reading or thinking about history-it can be put in a can and sold to people that have no real interest in history. They are really fantasy gamers that like their troops in historical uniforms. Just buy one bag of grenadiers, three of line infantry and a half bag of lights! Voila! An Army-just add water based paint! No history required-just eat your prepared meal and never think about whether it’s Soylent Green!

Now army lists are VERY popular with rule publishers because it can get you to that magic number of minimum pages, or fill out 30-50 pages with fluff that allows a price increase, but that requires no real creative effort. Writing rules is hard-any ass with enough time and a pocket calculator can do army lists-it’s just tedious. When a rule set gets to 150 pages and the majority of it is army lists-beware! When a rule set is 12 pages of rules, 30 pages of pretty pictures, and 100 pages of army lists-you’ve got a situation where you are paying a lot for stuff that isn’t used beyond the first look at the book, and actually gets in the way of the rules being used at the table. If a set of rules costs $30-50 dollars, divide that price by the number of pages of actual rules-not the army lists and other marginally useful material-and that’s what you are paying for ideas-which is supposedly what is being sold in a rule set. That makes any set with dozens of army lists (usually one to a page) a pretty expensive set of rules, and a very inefficient use of your purchasing dollar.

Now, I am NOT saying that suggested starter armies aren’t a consumer friendly thing, especially for the new gamer, the unread youngster, or the marginally educated, but when army lists become a requirement, the hobby has, yet again, committed to the Lowest Common Denominator in design, gaming, and historical inquiry. It’s a hobby that’s supposed to be about history and encourage thought while entertaining gamers and their friends-isn’t it?

Nor am I against giving a reasonable description of the make-up of armies in a period-just don’t tell me that the cliff notes for Huckleberry Finn are necessary to reading and understanding the book! Cliff notes are a thinly disguised cheat by those that don’t really want to do the work. There is some requirement for reading history in historical wargaming isn’t there? Not only the designer, but the gamer should have some basis for judgment beyond the contents of a rule book shouldn’t they? Is it too much to expect historical wargamers to have some grounding in history? So then let’s treat Army Lists for what they are, the equivalent of Lite beer, microwave dinners, fast food, and movies with “Awesome” explosions. They destroy the distinctions between fantasy gaming and historical wargaming. They also severely limit the historical miniature hobby in its creative development. Every game played becomes crammed into the preconceptions of the list-and the list has no reality-even an abstracted one. As they say of Los Angeles-there is no “there,” there.

Combat In Wargames

Repique and Piquet have both stressed different methods of treating time in the play of a miniature wargame-using cards to make the flow of time unpredictable, and, in Repique, adding variability in the extent of movement within any move time frame as well. These mechanics bring back suspense, and the need for the gamer to deal with some level of risk in sending troops forward into battle. They nicely mimic some of the angst of command in battle, and require some level of courage in decision making by lowering the unrealistic levels of “Knowns” in many wargames of EXACTLY when, and how far, a unit may may move.

But movement is only part of the factors of battle that a wargame must address, there is also combat. Most wargames fail miserably in this area as well, and for much the same reason, they simply make too much known to the gamer, make the decisions of battle too controllable, and allow gamers to make decisions where the outcome is depressingly predictable. The worst extreme of this was that staple of boardgames often brought over to the miniature wargame the classic CRT with the 3-1 arbiter of near sure success-allowing gamers to control the factors of a combat down to the last combat factor. In how many board games have the counters been carefully nudged to get that “Sure” victory? Or who has not seen some miniature wargames where the combatants use pocket calculators to get down to the last digit of the factors at play, where command becomes a skill not unlike being an accountant, not a general.

This “Comptroller Accountant” attitude in many wargamers robs their games of not only accurate perceptions of history, but most of its fun and gameplay enjoyment. It is a curse on the hobby far greater than the “rules Lawyers,” though there is possibly much overlap in those two groups!

Instead of counting hits in terms of Prussian musketry tables on a drill ground against a bed-sheet, we MUST become more interested in the behavior effects combat has on units and what they do in combat situations. It really doesn’t matter on a bullet by bullet basis-it is the aggregated effect and the response of the target unit. Does it continue advancing? Does it Hold its ground? Does it retreat or rout? Does it counter charge, or respond with a surprising counter-volley?

These results may be modeled to take into account various advantages of one side over another, their inherent qualities and strengths may be compared, but we do not need to model the particularities of combat on a level below the unit-just the result on the unit’s battlefield behavior. This allows many innovative and fun mechanics once we are freed from slavishly enumerating the steps of arms drill, the bullet by bullet accounting of spurious musketry accuracy tests on a drill field, and the concentration on process over results. It is the result that matters, and the sooner a game design gets rid of this anal-retentive fascination with misleading and uninformative details and moves on to treating only factors that are easily deduced from the historical record, and the resulting effects-results-consequences on the behavior of units, the sooner miniature wargames will be fun and more informative than many games are today. Get out of the trees, start looking back at the forest!

This change will bring more positive effects to the table-top as did the reframing of time through the use of sequence cards. Zouave will be a sure example of a design that that uses new approaches in both areas.

Canoeing in the Historical Archipelago

Historical Wargaming has always appeared to me to be a bunch of small islands separated by blue water. On each island is a dominant tribe that dictates what the tribe rules will be. They seldom mix, because only a few have a canoe that allows them to cross from island to island. Certain beliefs about what are the best rules, or what kind of totems should be used are generally agreed upon by each tribe. In the past, these tribes were so scattered and small that they knew little about what the other tribes were doing, or even if there were other tribes.

That all changed when the inter-island drum signals were created. The drum beats that echoed over the waters began to tie the various tribes together in some of their rituals, but it also was strangely impersonal as you could seldom see the drummer, and often led to strife and contention about what the drum beats meant. Even worse, there were many tribes that had no drum, and others that were determined to stop the evil influences of random canoers that brought new rules to the island. Some tribes, because they were bigger and more powerful, would hold large tribal councils but made very sure that any canoers that arrived were never allowed to lead the tribe. They never listened to the canoers ideas, and always said that their council was ONLY for that tribe-even though they allowed others to attend.

There were many islands that wanted nothing to do with whatever was occurring on the other islands, and wanted both the canoes and the drums banned from their tribe. They were particularly suspicious of some new canoes with sails and funny hull shapes, often used by people that also had very different tribal rules.

This all became a crisis when the huge cruise liner, USS Syfie Fantasy, came to the islands with tons of very oddly dressed tourists who thought the islanders very quaint, and after buying a few totems began to change the islands. Some islanders even began to mimic the tourists and dress like them. Now the tribes are much smaller, and have become even more intent upon stopping anyone visiting their islands. They hide the councils on small islands that no one wants to visit-often far from civilization, and they become even more fixed in their rituals and rules. Anthropologists are concerned for their survival unless the tribes become more open to change and different rules. In the meantime, many of the young islanders have moved away and only come back as tourists on the cruise ship.

Gaming Metaphors

Wargames are games. That simple statement is often argued about or stentoriously repeated as a statement of great wisdom on all wargame forums at some time or another. It is a truism. It does point to one fact of wargaming that gets overlooked by many people: Wargames are artifice. They are NOT simulations, since they are not testable, nor is their purpose to exactly illustrate any action or process of battle. They are entertainments. They are a relatively harmless and simple diversion, a way to socialize and pass time, not unlike Monopoly, Chess, or a game of cards. Surely, they are based on history, and the designer’s understanding of that history, along with his purpose, theme, or hypothesis about that combat as he lays out the rules of the game. But, bottom line, wargames are games with rules. They are a creative mix of fact and fun, not unlike a historical novel-such as the Flashman or O’Brien’s Aubrey novels. This is coupled with rules-which are just as in Scrabble, Poker, or Yahtze shows how the gamers will interact; what is fair, and what is foul.

Wargame rules attempt to set up metaphors-subtitutes of one process by another process that serves to represent the real process through an artifice. To illustrate the effect of musketry on a battalion, for instance, we don’t actually go out and shoot somebody-we substitute a die roll with certain effects flowing from its result. The die roll is used as a metaphor for a round of musketry. Most wargamers accept this metaphor, as it has been around for over a hundred years. They see nothing strange or awkward about it.

However, metaphors must be learned and accepted. When I first wrote Piquet there was a howl from many people who suddenly started talking about “Card Driven” games, and their loss of control over armies! The Piquet card sequence deck was a new metaphor, when introduced, for the flow of time. Gamers had grown so used to a fixed and predictable game sequence that they saw the card deck as chaotic, and ‘Unrealistic.” No matter that the fixed sequence games had many of its own artificialities, and its metaphor for time-the fixed sequence turn-was no more or less susceptible to oddities, such as the artillery ALWAYS firing before the infantry, or the cavalry always moving first or last. It was simply that one gaming metaphor for time collided with another-and out of familiarity the fixed turn was deemed “realistic” and the card sequenced turn was deemed chaotic! Now, after 15 years the number of games using the sequence deck, or its equivalent, has become so common that the metaphor has become more “realistic!” Nothing really changed but the mindset of gamers and their acceptance of this different metaphor.

One of the new metaphors in Zouave is the one for “orders”. In the past, some wargames used the most obvious of metaphors-the single courier figure with a handwritten note under his base saying something like “ Take that hill and then turn left.” Some still use this method. It is blazingly simple, not very imaginative, and, as generations of gamers have discovered, very open to all sorts of abuse in interpretation. It also creates a metaphor for something that may have been quite a bit more rare in actual battle, the written order with a high degree of specificity (rather like those given to a car driver attempting to find a gas station). Some use order chips placed by each unit-usually freely on a turn by turn basis-making orders mere ephemeral things that last only a turn and then are changed at will to meet unexpected events. Other designers have tried other metaphors, or ignored the issue altogether, allowing everybody to do just what they want to do,, and when they want to do it. This leads to that most unrealistic of all wargame events-the general advance by all units in an army.

When one looks at battles it is pretty clear that much of the order process was a combination of a pre-battle conference, initial formal orders, informal and often sketchy battle notes, and very frequently, verbal communications that were responding to the current situation as it developed. It is also apparent that the reason one promoted divisional and corps leaders to their position is that you expected some level of local initiative and response, if the situation warranted it. The written order or order chip metaphor isn’t very effective in portraying much of this.

In Zouave, I have created a new metaphor for orders. They are simply pennies, each of which denotes a bit of command energy, a metaphor for ordered intentions, that are acquired both before the battle and after it begins in a manner that is very dependent on the quality of the Commander, who can try to distribute them to his divisional commanders. This distribution is pretty free prior to the battle, but during the battle the process is muddied by the the abilities of the Commander in Chief, the quality of the recipient commander, the distance that separates the two commands, the conflicting needs of the various divisional commanders, the status of the various division’s troops, and, lastly, the actions of the enemy. These pennies represent the command will, the initial formal orders, the flow of information, the verbal orders, and the ability of lower commands to act. This is done simply and clearly. It enforces ruthlessly the need to focus an attack, and the humiliation of being outfoxed. If a gamer wanted to, he could easily substitute the new magnetic markers that have come on the market, but the pennies work just fine.

It is a different metaphor. I think it’s very effective, and fairly innovative. But, I’m sure some gamers will have to learn how to be comfortable with a new “Chaotic”metaphor. I look forward to the reaction of the wargame community.

Here’s a photo of a Divisional commander with a great deal of information, Command will, and orders to execute!:





Zouave has been three years in development!

How it all began and goals for the design

Zouave was begun at the urging of my friend of nearly 50 years Ed Meyers. After my 5 year sabbatical from gaming he encouraged me to try creating a new system for table top wargames.

I had not gamed much for several years, but soon he got me started again. The creation of Zouave has allowed me to restablish old relationships with Terry Shockey, John Mumby and Greg Cornell, as well as to meet new gamers such as Tony Fryer and Chris Caudill. I have also used the suggestions of experienced wargamers Jim Getz and Pat McGuire. In Pat’s case his professional editing skills have been invaluable. It’s been great fun working with all of these guys and, In that sense, the rules have already been a success.

I determined I wanted to do several new things with the Repique System. I wanted to go to a larger ground scale, and reach above the Divisional level to Corps and Army level command; I wanted to explore the wonders of 10mm, but not preclude other scales being used, and I wanted to better use a few key concepts of Piquet in original ways that tackled the command issues in a more complete fashion. In addition, I wanted to use common gaming tools and not create the need for special cards.

Most of all I wanted to swim upstream against the trend to “Convention-nize” wargames and make them so simple that all subtlety, all substance, and cleverness of play was subsumed in trying for some lowest common denominator understanding and very basic mechanics. I guess I feel that gamers, or at least some gamers, are capable of more demanding play, and that the “Big” game with a gentle ascending slope of a learning curve was about due for a renaissance.

Is Zouave a convention game? No! Is Zouave a difficult game to learn? No! It is fun? Yes!

(More to come)