Thursday, 25 August 2016

Wild West at CRISIS 2016 (2)

Our friends at PMCD have organized a test game for our joined CRISIS game this coming November. We are going to run a 54mm Wild West game, using toy scenery elements that was available during the 70s, and which many wargamers remember fondly.

We are going to use our house rules.

A few pictures here, but more pictures to be seen on their blog.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Simple scifi buildings (5)

A few months back I reported on how I made some simple scifi buildings using cardboard packaging for our scifi skirmish campaign.

I happened to come in the possession of another cardboard shape last week, and my creative juices took over to create another building. The bits box came in handy. The plan is to transform this into a communications station, with the disc and the sphere acting as futuristic comms devices.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Lobositz refought

We played a massive battle last Friday at Bart's wargaming mansion. The game was based on the battle of Lobositz, but using Napoleonic troops, and using Black Powder rules.

The lay-out was following the suggestions as made by Charles Grant in Wargaming in History, volume 9 (full title: The Seven Years War, Lobositz, Reichenberg, Prague and Kolin). This series of books is an excellent source for picking wargaming scenarios, since ost of the work of translating a historical battle into good scenario already has been taken care of.

Scenario map for Lobisitz, from Wargaming in History, Volume 9.
 Bart decided to use his Napoleonic figures instead, keeping the Austrians on the defense, but switching the attacking Prussians for a Franco-German force, led by King Ludwig of Bavaria. As is common in our games, we diced for sides, and the die roll decided I would play the Franco-German side, while Bart would take the roll of defending Austrians.

Due to time constraints, we weren't able to complete the entire game, but when we halted, the Franco-Germans were making some light headway towards breaking through the Austrian lines.

Overall, the scenario seemed to work, although there was the usual discussion afterwards whether the troop balance was right. In our game, the Austrians had fewer, but stronger units; while the Franco-Germans had more, but somewhat weaker units. Probably this should have been switched, giving the attacker fewer but stronger units, and the defender more, but weaker units. The idea would be that in a game, the defender is mostly static, but it's up to the attacker to manoeuvre his troops and choose his point of attack. Hence, it would be better not to burden the attacker with a high troop density, thereby limiting his moeuvring possibilities. Fewer troops for the attacker (more manoeuvring), and somewhat stronger units (so he can put pressure on a small frontage) is something we should try next time, and would probably benefit the scenario.

And here are the pictures:

Overview of the table after 2 moves. Franco-Germans on the left, Austrians on the right. Lobositz in the far-right corner. The Franco-German army is attacking on a narrow frontage, with Artillery deployed on the central hill firing at the village of Sullowitz, and flanked by cavalry on their far left flank (bottom middle of photograph). The Austrians are deployed in a wide defensive position.
View on the centre of the Austrian position.
Attacking Franco-German force, wedged between two hills. On the hill on the left flank, skirmishers are involved, while artillery on the right flank is providing covering fire.
Franco-German infantry advancing on their left flank. The Austrian cavalry is threatening the Franco-German advance, and forcing opposing infantry into square (but the reaction roll failed!).
Same position, one turn later. Franco-German infantry has been able to form line to fire at the upcoming Austrian cavalry. The result of this engagement was that the Franco-German infantry held their position, and was able to shake the Austrian cavalry, thereby severely weakening the Austrian right flank.
View from the Austrian right. The Franco-German horse Artillery finally came forward and deployed right in front of Sullowitz, forcing the Austrian Infantry out of the village.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Non-elegant rule mechanics

I am a big fan of elegant rule mechanics. In our house rules, we always spend a large amount of effort on testing and polishing exactly how a mechanic should work, by boiling it down to its essence: remove unnecessary modifiers, remove clunky procedures, stick to a single resolution mechanic, design such that you can read results directly from the die rolls, apply modifiers related to troops to the die roll for those troops, etc.

It sounds easy, but it's not. Actually, it's much easier to design a non-transparant / difficult-to-use / lots of modifiers / ...  mechanic. The result is that the game slows down, and that players spend time just resolving combat, or shooting, or whatever. The fun activity in a miniature game is in manoeuvring troops, not resolving combat. The latter should be quick, elegant, and fun. Not tedious and time-consuming.

I recently read Horizon Wars (Osprey Games), a newly-published ruleset for 6mm science fiction games. Their shooting mechanic is what I would call very non-elegant.

Let me explain:
  1. Attacker adds the Armour value of the defender to the range to the target. This becomes the effective range.
  2. Attacker then rolls a number of D12.
  3. Defender then rolls a number of D12. If any D12 scores the same result as the attacker's dice, that specific attacker's die is cancelled.
  4. Attacker then puts remaining dice in groups, the sum of each group has to exceed the effective range to score a hit.
Why do I think such a mechanic is not very elegant? Let me explain ...
  1. Determining the effective range requires the attacking player asking a stat about the target to his opponent. This slows down the game. Some players might even consider changing targets depending on the Armour value of the target. By constantly having to ask this characteristic, the procedure becomes tedious. Furthermore, it says nothing yet about your chances to score hit.
  2. Rolling a number of D12 - fine. Nothing wrong with that.
  3. This is what irks me. The defender rolls a number of D12 himself, trying to match rolls from the attacker. This requires comparing a handful of dice on both sides to each other. The cancelling is not related to the actual number rolled on the die. A "1" is cancelled with equal probability as a "12". So, although the attacker might have rolled some high numbers, it doesn't mean much, because roughly speaking, any roll made by the attacker has 1/12 chance of getting cancelled per die rolled by the defender.
    I understand what the idea is: more defending dice cancel on average more dice by the attacker. But comparing exact rolled die numbers is an unnecessary complication.
    A better option would have been to reduce the *number* of dice rolled by the attacker. That would require some rebalancing of stats, but would make for a smoother mechanic.
  4. The attacker then has to group remaining dice into groups, each group exceeding the effective range. This is also weird. It requires a little puzzle to be solved by the attacker, because he wants to score as many hits as possible. Suppose the effective range is 10, and you roll a 6, 5, 3, 3, 2, 1. Then you should combine the 6 with a 3 and 1 (resulting in 10), and the 5 with the 3 and 2, also scoring 10, for a total of 2 hits. Natural reaction might be to add 6 to 5, resulting in 11, but then you only can total 1 hit, since the remaining numbers add up to 9. Perhaps a convoluted example, but why invent such a clunky mechanic? What's the added value? Why not simply add everything up, divide by effective range and rounding down? Much simpler.
What bothers me the most is that you will not get any excitement from rolling dice. You can't even shout "Yes, I rolled a 12!", because a 12 might be cancelled as easily as a 1. Then you still have to group the dice in hits. Once you've done that, excitement already has gone. A mechanic should be designed in such a way that you do the math (modifiers, determining numbers of dice, dice types, whatever) BEFORE YOU ROLL ANYTHING. Then, you do immediately see, based on the die roll, what the effect of your action is. If you require calculations AFTER the die roll, it results in a boring and tedious mechanic.

Also, the specific mechanic as outlined above is not consistent. Armour value of the target is added to the range, the Defensive value results in a number of D12 to be thrown in order to cancel attacking dice. The stats of the defender influence the procedure in two very different ways. A good procedure should be designed in a uniform manner. Either adjust range, or adjust number of dice, or use die modifiers, or adjust die types, but don't use combinations of these various options!

A much better mechanic would have been to adjust the number of D12 rolled by the attacker, by subtracting Armour and Defensive values. That has the same effect: lowering the total on the dice rolled, while you can still compare the total sum against the unmodified range of the attacker, and seem how many hits you have scored.

Anyway, if players like these procedures, they should use them! It's not for me to tell how others should enjoy their games. But I do think many mechanics in wargames can be made more elegant, resulting in better designed games.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Inaugural game - 6mm Scifi

Last Friday we had an inaugural game at Koen D. wargaming mansion (i.e. his living room). Since Koen is known for his fondness of 6mm science fiction, he had chosen a golden oldie for us to play: Space Marine 2nd edition, published by Games Workshop during the early nineties. Koen is a SpaceMarine/Epic afficionado, so it was quite natural he selected Space Marine as the first game to be hosted at his place.

We used a few rules modifications, such as using hexes to count for movement and ranges. The scenario involved an Eldar force attacking an urban area defended by Space Marines.

The game went well, although we were a bit surprised by the special powers of some of the units. Eldar wave serpents seem brutal!

Nevertheless, the game was a lot of fun, although it also reminded us also why we moved away from GW rules in a distant past. But it might serve as a good basis to start developing our own 6mm scifi house rules.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Wild West at CRISIS 2016

This year for CRISIS 2016, we will be joining forces with PMCD, running a 54mm wild west shootist game, using our house rules. Dirk D. has been busy painting figures. Some pictures below, but more pictures can be seen in this blogpost.

More Archives: Super Heroes!

Ever since I was a kid, I always liked to make my own variants of existing games. I remember we made a huge RISK map during a hot summer, expanding the number territories to several hundred. Unplayable, of course, but as kid, you don't realize that yet. I also made my own variant of Monopoly, adding shares for companies and a stock market. And racing games using Matchbox cars or Cyclists, emulating the Tour de France (some more examples here). I guess I never stopped doing that ;-)

From the digital archives, I recovered some files for a game called Superheroes: The Wars of Destruction! The was a game I made together with my friend Eric B. If I remember correctly, we made this during the 93-94 Christmas break. We had attended EuroGencon that fall in Camber Sands, at which Magic The Gathering was launched in Europe. We were addicts immediately. So, we came up with the idea of making our own variant, using Superheroes as the theme. Eric had a huge comic collection, so we spend quite a few days scanning images, and designing cards. No mean fate with the computer power of over 20 years ago.

We printed and mounted close to 300 cards (we printed our cards using various coloured papers, and glued them to ordinary playing cards), and distributed them among a handful of friends. We even had "starter decks" and "booster packs". Of course, the idea never was to make a commercial game, we did it just for fun. We even included ourselves as "superheroes".

I lost the original files long ago, but Eric had always kept the printouts, and they resurfaced recently. Some examples below ...

Friday, 5 August 2016

Naval wargaming for kids

Some simple rules to quickly set up a game for kids - made up on the spot when they asked for a game at "Uncle Phil's Toy Room":
  • 3 types of ships: large, middle, small.
  • Choose 3 ships to move when it's your turn.
  • A ship must move forward 1 hex, then may make a 60 degree turn. Small ships may make a 2nd movement.
  • After movement, you can fire in any of the 4 side hexes (not the front or back hex).
    • Large ships roll 4 dice, middle ships 3 dice, small ships 2 dice
    • Target may shoot back (if it can do so) with 1 dice only (so it is important to manoeuvre such that you can attack instead of receiving the hits) 
    • Hits on 5,6
    • Large ships have 4 hits, middle ships have 3, small ships have 2.
  • If you must move into the hex where another ship is present, both roll a dice, sunk on a 6.
  • Anything else is made up by the umpire on the spot.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The library

I have posted pictures of my wargaming room before.

One cabinet is filled with wargaming books, of which a picture is shown below. I don't put all my rulesets here - especially softcover or loose booklets are kept in boxes in my garage. But more general books, or the more luxuruous rulesets find a place here.

So, what's here?

On the top shelf are many of the classics: Featherstone, Grant, Asquith, ... Most of them in an original edition, but also a couple reprints as published by the History of Wargaming project.

The middle shelf has 2 parts: on the left, there are the "Wargaming in History" books, Osprey rulebooks, and the Wargaming Compendium. On the right is a mix of various books on roleplaying, but also a boxed set of The Sword and The Flame (signed!).

The bottom shelf has many Warlord Games rulebooks, the Wargamer's Annuals, more rulebooks, and a full collection of Warhammer rulebooks. Not that I still play Warhammer (I stopped after 3rd edition), but I kept buying the basic rulebooks for completeness  - and because they can serve as inspiration.

The Russians are discovering wargaming!

From the stats on this blog, it seems as if the Russians are discovering wargaming :-). Other wargaming blogs are reporting the same phenomenon.

The number of pageviews for this week alone:

United States
United Kingdom

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Zones of Control - Perspectives on Wargaming

Zones of Control - Perspectives on Wargaming, is a new book about wargaming in all its different facets, with a strong emphasis on professional wargaming. I haven't read through all chapters yet, but I managed to read roughly 50% of the book so far (not the first half, but selected chapters throughout). The contents consist of 59 different chapters written by different people active in wargames design, or who have studied wargaming academically.

I must say I felt a bit depressed after reading a number of chapters. Not because of the content - which was excellent - but because I was asking myself "What the heck are we doing as hobby (miniature) wargamers - claiming to design wargames? There is this whole body of academic literature on serious wargames design, and we are busying ourselves discussing the relative merits of rolling a D6 over a D10, or whether a stone wall for cover should provide a +1 or a +2." My feeling after reading the book was that we as hobby miniature wargamers are a small freak sideshow in the spectrum of wargaming, and just noise in the bigger world of wargames.

Now, I am an academic myself, and I have published quite a number of academic journal papers to know the difference between "serious" academic work and "hobby" work (check out my Google Scholar profile :-)). My field is computer graphics, but in order to do some serious graphics research, you need to know about computer programming, algorithm design, algorithm analysis, integral and differential equations, numerical integration techniques, analytic geometry, applied algebra, user studies, perceptual psychology, etc. It is a far different world from the hobby enthusiast who is also doing computer graphics, drawing 3D models using a free 3D modeling program, using Photoshop to enhance his pictures, or perhaps developing a small plugin or mod for a game. Both activities are "computer graphics", but there is very little common ground between those activities. Academic research is a completely different beast, compared to the hobbyists who are discussing the merits of a specific feature in a graphics software package, as seen from a user's point-of-view. But the software package used by the hobbyists often is developed with insights and techniques developed in academic research. Ultimately, both spheres are interlinked.

So, after reading Zones of Control - Perspectives on Wargaming, I felt like the hobbyist who doesn't have a clue about the deeper understanding of wargames. This is not to say I didn't know about professional wargaming before. Years ago, I read Peter Perla's The Art of Wargaming, and I came into superficial contact with professional wargaming during my miltary service. I never bothered to read much about it after that, since I thought the aims are different, so there's not too much of a connection between professional and hobby wargaming. Hobby wargaming is a toy, an entertainment, a passtime for people interested in military history. Professional wargaming is there to train military officers, and is designed as a learning tool. Although both do share a common ancestry, ever since H.G.Wells published Little Wars in 1913, hobby wargaming has pursued a path of its own. Hobby wargame designers design games. Professional wargame designers design training tools.

But the book blew me off my socks. In some of the chapters, people make the explicit link between hobby wargaming and professional wargaming - although the hobby wargames mentioned in this context usually are the hex-and-counter type, not the toy soldier type. I have argued before in several discussions (e.g. on TMP), that there is not much of a link between both, exactly because the design aims are different. I never understood the wargamers who claim that a (board) wargame designed for entertainment actually is a serious tool to train for war. "Really? You can learn to command an army by playing Tactics 2?" Nevertheless, in various online discussion, this point is always made. I often think this is because the confusion people have about the name "wargame", and leave out the adjectives  "hobby", "training", "miniature, "board" or "professional". After all, when discussing football, isn't it important one specifies whether one is talking about European or American football, or mini-football, foosball, or a football computer game? Sure, it's all football, but why discuss it as if it's all the same thing?

So, if there is indeed a strong connection between professional and hobby wargaming, and if we have professional wargame designers who clearly know their stuff, then what the hell on earth are hobby miniature wargame designers thinking they're doing? Shouldn't we leave the game design to the professionals? Or should we as gaming enthusiasts all start reading the academic articles and use whatever insights the professionals have developed? Are those insights even transferable to hobby games to begin with?

I lay awake for some nights pondering this very question. I do like writing my own rules for miniature wargaming, testing the game out with my friends, or sending in articles about our games to the glossy miniature wargaming journals. I like playing with my toy soldiers. On the other hand, as an academic, I know there's this world of difference between tackling a problem academically or fixing it at the hobby level. So how is a hobby like miniature wargaming perceived by serious wargame designers? Simple child's play? Noise in the wargaming universe? Should we - as miniature wargamers - simply stop pretending we are doing anything more than just playing a simple game? (In fact, I do think we are just playing a game inspired by military history - but there's this neverending discussion that it's always something more, and people get confused ...)

After a couple of days, I started thinking about the unique assets of miniature wargaming, that I couldn't see being present in professional wargaming, and I became somewhat more relaxed:
  • The visual spectacle! For me, *miniature* wargaming has always been about the toy soldiers. Moving toys around the table is a large part of the attractiveness of the hobby, as is the modeling aspect that is linked to this.
  • Elegant gaming mechanics! Miniature wargaming is a game, and games design is focused around designing elegant and playable mechanics using dice, rulers, cards, ... as well as around producing plausible results.
  • History, not training for actual war! Miniature wargaming most often is involved with historic subjects, not something wargames designed for training the military are really considering.
  • Fantasy and Scifi and Imaginations! Many popular miniature wargames explore alternate universes, and care little about training or historic plausibility.
  • Storytelling! In the end, a good wargame is telling a story inspired by military history. One could even make a point this is the most important point of our hobby.
So, I slowly reverted back to my original stance. Yes, there are many genres of wargaming - all called wargaming :-) But in the end, I do not see much similarities between wargaming as used by professionals and recreational wargaming as played by hobbyists. Sure, there might be the occasional game or gaming engine that can serve both audiences, but I think those are the exception rather than the rule.

To conclude, I do think the book is an interested read - I am still not sure whether the connection between the pro's and the hobbyists is real, or artificial. Anyway, I'll have to make a final judgement once I've finished all the chapters :-)

Monday, 1 August 2016

Imaginations in 42mm (7)

Now that the starting 42mm armies for my imaginations campaign are finished, I am trying to find good-sounding names for the countries and units.

First question is what language to use. Since wargaming is dominantly an English-driven hobby, it seems natural to use English. However, over the years, I sort of grew tired of all the fake German, French, Russian or whatever names people give to their units in English. Such names often have small mistakes against the grammar or inflections of the language in question. Mind you, I also do think this can be fun to do, but at least you should make the effort to use *plausible* names in the target language, not only words that sound funny in English.

Anyway, since my native language is Dutch (or Flemish as some would prefer to call it), and because there's already an abundancy of English-language imaginations, I decided to run my Imaginations campaign with Dutch names. Not only for the military organizations, but also for the places, towns, geography, etc.

Especially the names for units will not be that different from English, French or German names due to historic influences, but some Dutch words (as adjectives, designations, etc.) can be used as well, giving the whole a different sounding schwung.

Listed below is the current OOB for both armies. Not all names have been decided yet, and names of units will change and receive accolades throughout the games we will play. Also, I foresee more units to be added as campaign developments.

Country A - name still to be decided.
  • Dominant colour of uniforms: Green
Units: 8 infantry figures, 4 cavalry figures, or 1 gun per unit. Infantry and cavalry units will be grouped in 2 subunits each (resp. 4 figures and 2 figures), which will be called companies and eskadrons. A subunit neatly occupies a single Kalliastra hex. The rules - which still have to be written - will accommodate for this. Each unit also has a regimental colour, visible in the uniform.

1ste Regiment Fusiliers - black
2de Regiment Fusiliers - red
3de Regiment Fusiliers - blue, although the flag has yellow as well.
1ste Artillerie - brown
1ste Karabiniers te Paard - white

Country B
  • Dominant colour of uniforms: Blue
Units: same organization as country A - just to keep things simple ruleswise. Since these figures are actually Turkish soldiers from the Balkan wars, I decided that the names could be a bit more atypical. Instead of using battallion or regiment, I will call them bans, and a subunit is a schaar. Each ban also has its own colour.
1ste Ban Schutters - red
2de Ban Schutters - turqoise
3de Ban Schutters - straw
1ste Mechanisch Geschut - magenta
1ste Verkenners te Paard - white