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Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Tuesday, 15 April 2014
Designer's Journal
Topic: Design Diary

Much to report. Now that I am officially self employed I have begun to design again in earnest. My book and game library (close to 200 boxes) has now moved. With that in my rear view mirror I am finally establishing a new routine of work and exercise. 

 

 I am starting a new company; Studiolo Designs

To be clear, this is NOT a new publishing company. My intention is to use it to house my designs that will be published through a growing list of established companies. The concept is that of a studio workshop along the lines of Renaissance Italy Florentine practices.

 

The current 2014 release schedule is as follows, subject to change.

 

April: Hoplite (GMT; with Richard Berg), this one is actually shipping and I have a copy, looks awesome.

 

May: Desert Fox (Shenandoah Studio; with Nick Karp), in final software testing. I find the game addicting. I have to play less of this and design more.

 

June:  Fire in the Lake: Insurgency in Vietnam (GMT; with Volko Ruhnke), this one is complete as of this Friday. My hope is the printing and shipping go smoothly, but in either case I predict it will be available no later than July.

 

 In re-design:

 

 Churchill; this one is looking good. I have decided to focus the game more on the Allied interaction during the conferences and simplified the war fighting portion of the game. That effort is just now kicking into high gear again after all of the delays imposed by recent life events (retiring from corporate life).

 

 In development: 

 

PacWar reprint: NUTS publishing

 

This one is well along the way as it was originally delivered to MMP and is now moving along with a new publishing team and developer; Marcus Stumpter. I do not have a schedule as that is up to NUTS to determine, but sooner than later.

 

Empire of the Sun reprint: GMT

 

This one is a major labor of love. See the various posts on BGG and Consimworld regarding what will be in the reprint, but this will be a cherry on the sundae reprint. Working on integrating the FAQ into the rules. No design changes although some of the c3i variants will find their way into the package. Check out my videos on how to play the game, but this one has a shot for the end of 2014. 

 

For The People: GMT

I haven't started this one yet, but there is almost nothing to do on this one and it should also see the light of day by the end of 2014. 

 

In preliminary design 

 

France 1944 reprint: ConSim Publishing; I am not sure that this has even been announced yet, but John Kranz would like to get this one back into print. I will be revising the combat and supply systems. 

 

 Sun Tzu: Chinese Warring States; this one is a collaborative effort between myself, Robert Ryer (of VG fame), Rich Phares, and James Pei. James' fluency in Chinese has opened up the research on the period. This will be a CDG with multiple scenarios for 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 players and a solo option akin to Volko's COIN series non-player bots. 

 

There is one other project that the publisher has not announced yet, so I will hold off until they do. 

 

In early research

 

Peloponnesian War: My thought here is to do a two in one design. The box will contain a revised version of my original VG design, but will also come with a new CDG design on the same topic. This one is a ways off with much in front of it. The main effort is I am re-reading all of my books on the topic, starting with Thucydides.

 

Spanish American War: Still working on who the players are and how they interact with each other. Currently the players are both American representing the pro and anti war factions. The anti-war faction player gets to move the Spanish forces as of now.

 

Battle of the Cold War: Now that I am no longer working as a Defense consultant I can now do games that go beyond Vietnam. I will probably start with Vietnam, but I plan on using a streamlined variant of my Flashpoint: Golan system to cover all of the major operations of the Cold War in the Middle East, South Asia, SE Asia, and Africa.

 

Non-Wargame Designs: I have a few designs that are not wargames. One is based on the horror genre, historical themes, and an abstract strategy game akin to Othello. We'll see how these develop as designs going forward. 

  

 More to follow...

 

Mark Herman

Studiolo Designs 

 

 


Posted by markherman at 8:59 AM EDT
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Friday, 15 November 2013
Refocus on Game Design Career
Mood:  cool
Topic: Design Diary

I wanted to begin a dialog, probably with myself as I have little to no evidence that anyone reads my blog, that I am going to once again become a full time game designer starting next year. As a consequence I am starting to ramp up my production schedule which should take about a year to fill up before the games begin to flow into the market. I will begin posting future projects and thinking as things develop and if you have a view please feel free to reply.

 

The futures so bright I have to wear shades. 

 

Mark Herman 


Posted by markherman at 1:55 PM EST
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Sunday, 3 March 2013
Coopetition
Topic: Churchill Design

Churchill is my most recent design that is now getting into the latter phases of its development cycle and has passed its GMT P500 level, so it will be published in the later half of 2013.

 Churchill is a game of Inter-Allied Politics during World War II. The players explicitly represent Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin and their Military Staffs. The game is played as a series of Conferences where the players resolve who determines Theater Command, Type and Deployment of Production, Deception Operations, and Theater Offensives. The goal of the game is for the three players to cooperate to defeat the Axis powers in 5 Conferences or less while competing for a superior post war position. Players score victory points for which powers are present in an Axis country when it surrenders and key areas of Western and Eastern Europe. The player with the most Victory Points wins with Conference performance determing the winner in tie breaker situations.

 

Churchill at its core is a simulation of inter Allied cooperation and competition. I use the term simulation to denote one dimension of the game, the Allied conflict for who drives Grand Strategy. In all other ways the other simple game mechanics are designed to move the strategic narrative along. In this manner many will view it as an historically themed game but as I have written in my c3i column we often diminish psychological history versus physical history in our hobby. The reason that Sun Tzu is still relevant in todays world is its strong focus on the mental dimension of warfare, which has been augmented by technology while humans still remain humans. 

While the strategic narrative is totally unscripted, geography and victory conditions drive the war along recognizable historical paths. This is a game of Grand Strategy where high level Joint Allied decisions drive Command, Production, Deception, and large scale conflict (e.g., Battle for the Atlantic). What it is not is a strategic level game ala Empire of the Sun where you worry about a particular theater. Combat resolution is designed to be simple to implement and generates successes, failures, and attrition, with little insight beyond numbers matter with some assistance from special situations injected through the conference cards (e.g., Market Garden). One important but simple rule that has huge strategic implications is one whereby if an Allied production center (UK or Eastern US for example) has more Axis forces adjacent to the space than exist in the production center, that sides production is halved for the next conference, as you can imagine this is a bad thing. Therefore, while no rule exists to force winning the Battle for the North Atlantic, Roosevelt and Churchill will quickly tire of having their production halved and build naval forces to avoid the situation. Now while at first blush it would appear that Stalin would prefer this situation and might even work to engineer it, the balance is the Axis will not lose the war and the Soviet forces alone will be insufficient to win the game without US and UK forces in the mix. 

If Germany falls before Italy (Marshall's preferred strategy), the remaining Axis forces are still considered German as they have fallen back into the Festung Alps. 

If Italy falls before Germany (Churchill's preferred strategy), then it follows fairly historical paths. 

Japan is the wild card and while historically the US was the sole historical occupant, although Soviet influence (Manchuria) and British (naval) were in the mix. Any outcome that sees other powers fulfilling the surrender of Japan would be viewed as the A-bomb causes Japanese surrender and which side(s) are in the best position to occupy Japan first. 

Value is also achieved for who has sole or joint control of Western and Eastern Europe at the time of Axis surrender. It behooves the US-UK to try and consider Churchill's Balkan strategy to try and limit Soviet post war advantage in Eastern Europe. 

In all cases what happens in the game is driven by who wins the agenda battle during a particular conference. So while it may feel very strange to have the Soviets moving US forces in the Pacific, what it simulates is the Soviets winning the argument on where the various offensives should occur. A similar situation occurred for most of the British offensives in the CBI which the British reluctantly agreed to execute. It should also be remembered that the US argued for earlier Soviet participation in the Far East and in retrospect that may not have been to US post war advantage. 

How much cooperation and how much competition the players need to exhibit is determined by how ahead or behind schedule the Allies are on the historical timeline for ending the war. The self correcting mechanism in the game are the players. If the players do not successfully hinder or support each other at the right times then what happens is your groups strategic narrative for the war. 

There is almost no luck in the game. So, player skill alone will determine who wins. The rules will not force obvious player actions, it is for the players to sort through the Grand Strategy puzzle that is confronting them from a Realpolitik perspective. Weird stuff only happens if you let it. So, far I have found no advantage for any particular side as I have now won or observed every side winning with most games coming down to a few critical decisions as the war comes to its conclusion. 

I hope these continuing posts are helpful for folks, but I am not aware of any games that have gone down this path in this manner. I suspect that for the hardcore tactical crowd this will not be their cup of tea. For those who are looking for a Grand Strategic vice Strategic game, with a different perspective on the war this may be worth a look. 

My thanks to all those who have already P500ed the game as it is now slated for production which I would expect would start in the late Spring to early Summer. As always I am not in a rush, but the game is starting to get set in its final form. 

Mark

Posted by markherman at 4:33 PM EST
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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Glad To Hear It
Topic: Washington's War
Glad to hear it...

"I don't actually see the American's weakness in CUs as much of a problem, except for Washington's force. It is devilishly frustrationg as the British to encounter a force of nats that keep returning and showing up to foil your plans , block access, retreat before battle, intercept, break control, cut LOC and force you to attack them in a non -winter space." 


This is exactly the situation that I wanted to occur and is part and parcel to what I felt where WtP fell short as a simulation. The whole point of the solid front with rear area security is how the British can deal with this feature of the design. The guerrilla forces are usually 1 CU in strength, so easy to defeat, but it takes an activation. 

My point about the British reinforcement card advantage is the Americans need for creating a guerrilla force (a general + 1 CU) is an inefficient use of cards by design. The point is the Americans will require two cards to maintain their forces most turns usually 2 and 3 value cards vice one card for the British usually a 1 value card. This numerical tension is offset by the British need to preserve 3 OP cards for movement while the Americans can use 1 and 2 OP cards. 

Adding to the dynamic is Washington's two sided nature. His excellency is both a great offensive force (Continental Army) and the 'soul' of the revolution and while his loss no longer ensures defeat, his loss sways things strongly in the British favor. Just to review, besides Washington, the Americans have 3 other 1 strategy rated leaders and one of them (Arnold) is an uncertain asset. So, only Washington is a consistent offensive force and if the British can bring him to battle on a regular basis, the Americans will have to maintain the Continental army with a reinforcement card that does not increase the number of American forces on the map. This is also an important tool. 

Again, my point is to open the aperture on the British strategy discussion as a means to offset the current state of play. If more sophisticated British strategies are unable to move the needle then I will consider what modifications are necessary. I would say that while the tournament variant rules are well thought out, I would consider more subtle yet significant alterations. So for example I would consider extending the overrun rule to any force, so guerrilla armies that cannot get out of the way of British armies could be eliminated enabling the British army to get back to a winter quarter. 

Based on what I am seeing I would offer an Occams razor view of the proposed tournament rules. 

1. The Continental Congress proposed rule allowing the British to determine who goes first when it is in flight; I like this one as it fits within the spirit of the design. 

2. This is a tournament idea, the last card play of the game, so the condition is the game ends card situation would establish that the game is about to end no Army activation is allowed. The notion is the Americans cannot make some aggressive move to alter the games outcome without a British response, although events or a discard to change remove one PC marker etc. are allowed. It also allows the play of another game ends card continuing the game. 

Thoughts? 

Mark


Posted by markherman at 10:55 AM EST
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Now Playing: More on Game Balance
Topic: Washington's War

 This post was in response to my earlier point that if the best players can win with either side whether a game could be unblanced.

Balance is very dependent on player skill. If a game has a true bias players who can consistently beat anyone with either side would be difficult as luck over a period of time is not a factor. Just because many people play it one way and lose, but the superior player does it another way and wins is indicative that the winning player has discovered a technique that balances the game. Players love to regale me with how luck bit them and they lost. Fact of the matter is over a short period of time this can always happen. 

My point is with as many moving parts that a medium complexity game has even tournament results are not necessarily an indication that a game is unbalanced but a reflection of the current state of play. I am not arguing that the statistics are wrong, but they are a course measure without more detail. I think that it is curious that if the game were truly biased that the British side won the final three times in a row. That could be due to luck, but I have to assume that the American opponent was a strong player also and if there were truly a 70-30 bias in favor of the Americans how does that happen? Luck would seem an insufficient answer, so I am asking a deeper question, what happened in those games? There may be a tactic or technique that if more broadly discussed would in it of itself alter the perception of balance. 

I can only use FTP as my model as it has had a longer time in tournament play. James was beaten by the way, but not due to poor luck, but s superior strategy delivered by Rikku. At that time everyone bemoaned the loss of balance, but even before the final that James lost I had sat and watched what Rikku was doing and I already knew the counter to his plan. However, the difference between internet play and ftf is surprises have to be solved in real time with only a short time for thought, so it was very effective. 

I even discussed this with several players that evening, one of whom was James but he felt that he had it, although it more or less worked in the finals. Immediately the FTP crowd wanted to make changes to the game to 'fix' the problem and all I did was publish the simple counter strategy and the issue dissolved. 

That situation is not this situation, but I would like to hear a deeper discussion of the issue via strategy vice rules as rules lock in a new set of variables attempting to shift the balance based on the current state of play. I would prefer to not see that happen as it diminishes the art of the possible. 

The two sides are very asymmetric so applying American strategy logic to British strategy is not a simple conversion. My point around American reinforcements was reflecting that asymmetry and a general response of an American weakness to some of the thinking of the British maneuver limitations and not going last. My question is have all strategy concepts been explored? I am not sure that they have...but if people are convinced that all paths have been explored we can always make changes. 

Mark


Posted by markherman at 10:17 AM EST
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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Washington War Balance Over Time
Topic: Washington's War


 

Balance in a game design is always important if for no other reason than to validate the effort of the players in taking either side. The main issue with balance is while a game may be intrinsically balanced, player ability can easily alter balance, so it takes statistics from numerous tournaments before you can really know.

Based on tournament play Washington's War is now viewed as having an American advantage, so I recently posted the following


 

Balance over time...

I think this is a useful discussion, but for me it operates at two levels. First, is the current metagame strategies without a credible response from within the rules? Second, if yes, then work on the strategies ala Keith's personal experience. If not, assuming a solid design, then there are tweaks. 

My experience with FTP is that over 11 years the balance has swung about every 6 months from CSA to USA advantage based on new strategies with no rules changes. Currently the Union seems to have the edge, but now we are starting to see a new crop of CSA long game strategies vice offensive 62 strategy that I believe is going to shift the balance back toward neutral. 

If Keith and I stand in a minority that think the game is balanced it is because we have had consistent success with the British. I use a solid front strategy that initially concentrates all British armies in New England or the South. I use the 3OC leaders to anchor a line, control all rear spaces, and use the 2OC generals for offensive maneuvers to expand British territory. This usually gets the British to 5 colonies (NE + Canada) or 4 colonies (South + Canada) after about three turns. The strategy assumes that the British will not move more than one 3OC army per turn. From there it all depends, but British naval power is an important element in how I maneuver into the mid to late game. I am not saying this is some unbeatable strategy, but I feel that when I can get myself organized and moving in this manner I have a 50-50 shot at winning. 

I usually hear that WaWar is not a simulation but an area control game. Be that as it may, but at the strategic level, this is what the war would look like from London or the Continental Congress. As most players view any one map game that does not have battalions as a strategic game all I can say is I differ on what a strategic simulation looks like vice many other people. 

The reason that this is important to me is the main balance criticism is usually the British disadvantage in maneuver and the impact of a bad hand. As this is at the core of my design intent all I can say is that is what I wanted as a critical simulation dimension of the game. Basically in a given year the British are not going to move a lot. That said, you should get to move with more than half your hand if Burgoyne and Cornwallis are in play. In fact if the British are moving more than three or four times a turn they are going to crush the Americans given their inherent strength advantage. I find that the critical choice is when to make those maneuvers and in what combination. 

The ability to go last is usually a greater advantage than going first in a CDG, also why I designed GBOH the way I did. For what it is worth I believe that the defense-offense combo has historically been a stronger tactic. Given the American strength disadvantages this was part and parcel to American survival. The issue is not that the Americans go last, but what are the British going to do to offset it. Going back to my strategy if the Americans want to take on a properly resourced space with a +2 Winter Offensive arm that's fine as they will need to use a card next turn to replace their losses, reducing their maneuver ability. 

Of the changes that Keith articulated the most significant is who goes first and I like British getting the choice with a CC (current rules) and if American Congress is in flight (tournament). If this one works out I would like to see it incorporated into the standard rules. The other ones are situational, ala DoI, and are typical tournament fare to knock off the downside for competitive purposes. The additional Kings Men PC is the standard way to alter the numerology. 

Hopefully adding to the conversation, 

Mark


Posted by markherman at 3:05 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 6 February 2013 3:07 PM EST
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Wednesday, 26 December 2012
Opening with a weak Japanese hand under ISR
Topic: Empire of the Sun

A question that I get asked more than most is how to successfully start a game ('42 campaign) with a weak Japanese hand. I have written about this here before (easiest to sort on strategy posts), but the variant on this question is how to do this while also suffering from ISR. So, here is a short set of guidelines that I use that will hopefully get a new player over the worst of this issue if you do not have the time to work it out over the board.

 

These guidelines assume that you are trying to capture the DEI on the opening turn. As seen from our extensive collection of CSW games over the last 5 years there are other ways to open the game, but for purposes of answering this question I will focus on a core set of moves to capture the DEI and see what remains in the JP opening fuel tank for other conquests.

 

An important point to note is the Japanese is always assured on offensive event in their opening hand and the first Japanese card play is always under Central Agreement sans ISR. We have been playing a continuous series of 'staff' games over on CSW for the last 5+ years and what follows has been successfully accomplished in team and individual play, so this is not theory but battle tested tactics. 

 

The key to the weak Japanese opening hand and being under ISR after the opening JP attack is the South Seas Brigade with the CA Aoba out of Rabaul. First a quick review, when ISR is imposed on the JP in the opening they have their ASPs (Amphibious Shipping Points) reduced in half to 4 from the original 7. The South Seas Brigade (hereafter SS Bde) using the CA Aoba as organic transport does not require any ASPs. The SS Bde is capable of defeating any Dutch Regiment garrisoning a resource hex, so aggressive use of the SS Bde is the main element in an opening that is hobbled by a halving of your ASPs.

 

My preferred opening card always focuses on gaining air superiority over Manila and Singapore and if I only have one offensive event I usually use it on my opening play. I try if possible to use a CA in my opening attack so it can PBM to Miri and link up with the SNLF Bde at that location. 

 

Once that is accomplished I then use the six strength SS brigade with CA Aoba organic transport to capture several of the Dutch resource hexes to conserve ASPs. The basic idea is you use a 3OC card to send the SS Bde to Tarakan with air support giving a 90% of success and then use it later on to take Balikpapan. I use the SNLF Bde out of Miri to take Soerbaja. I use an ASP to capture Batavia (adjacent to the strongly held Tjilatjap) then ship into the captured port larger Army units for an overland attack on Tjilatjap. Landing a division in Bangka, Sumatra (1 ASP) allows a later overland attack to capture Palembang. This leaves the capture of Medan, Sumatra to a 2OC move from Balikpapan with the SS Bde. 

 

So summarizing, the SS Bde captures Tarkan (3OC), Balikpapan (1OC), Medan (2OC) leaving the capture of Soerbaja for the Miri SNLF on a 2OC. Capturing these four hexes in this manner costs zero ASPs. The capture of Batavia, and Banka requires 2 ASP. This would leave the JP with 2 ASP (under ISR) for other adventures. The difficulty with a weak hand under ISR for me is not ASPs, but battle hex limitations. 

 

Now no plan survives the first shot, so view this as a template, not a formula, but hopefully this gives you a more tactical explanation on how to take the DEI and still have logistic energy to take a couple of other locations. Also, remember that spending a few activations in Burma in the opening turn can have long range benefits and does not require any ASPs. It is how you use the remainder of your remaining resources not used in the first turn capture of the DEI that shapes your strategy going forward. 

 

Lastly, this is not the only way to successfully open the game as the Japanese, just a demonstration on some key themes to consider when laboring under the twin obstacles of a weak hand and early ISR.

 

Happy Holidays all,

 

Mark


Posted by markherman at 10:04 AM EST
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Opening with a weak Japanese hand under ISR
Topic: Empire of the Sun
A question that I get asked more than most is how to successfully start a game ('42 campaign) with a weak Japanese hand. I have written about this here before (easiest to sort on strategy posts), but the variant on this question is how to do this while also suffering from ISR. So, here is a short set of guidelines that I use that will hopefully get a new player over the worst of this issue if you do not have the time to work it out over the board.

These guidelines assume that you are trying to capture the DEI on the opening turn. As seen from our extensive collection of CSW games over the last 5 years there are other ways to open the game, but for purposes of answering this question I will focus on a core set of moves to capture the DEI and see what remains in the JP opening fuel tank for other conquests.

An important point to note is the Japanese is always assured on offensive event in their opening hand and the first Japanese card play is always under Central Agreement sans ISR. We have been playing a continuous series of 'staff' games over on CSW for the last 5+ years and what follows has been successfully accomplished in team and individual play, so this is not theory but battle tested tactics. 

The key to the weak Japanese opening hand and being under ISR after the opening JP attack is the South Seas Brigade with the CA Aoba out of Rabaul. First a quick review, when ISR is imposed on the JP in the opening they have their ASPs (Amphibious Shipping Points) reduced in half to 4 from the original 7. The South Seas Brigade (hereafter SS Bde) using the CA Aoba as organic transport does not require any ASPs. The SS Bde is capable of defeating any Dutch Regiment garrisoning a resource hex, so aggressive use of the SS Bde is the main element in an opening that is hobbled by a halving of your ASPs.

My preferred opening card always focuses on gaining air superiority over Manila and Singapore and if I only have one offensive event I usually use it on my opening play. I try if possible to use a CA in my opening attack so it can PBM to Miri and link up with the SNLF Bde at that location. 

Once that is accomplished I then use the six strength SS brigade with CA Aoba organic transport to capture several of the Dutch resource hexes to conserve ASPs. The basic idea is you use a 3OC card to send the SS Bde to Tarakan with air support giving a 90% of success and then use it later on to take Balikpapan. I use the SNLF Bde out of Miri to take Soerbaja. I use an ASP to capture Batavia (adjacent to the strongly held Tjilatjap) then ship into the captured port larger Army units for an overland attack on Tjilatjap. Landing a division in Bangka, Sumatra (1 ASP) allows a later overland attack to capture Palembang. This leaves the capture of Medan, Sumatra to a 2OC move from Balikpapan with the SS Bde. 

So summarizing, the SS Bde captures Tarkan (3OC), Balikpapan (1OC), Medan (2OC) leaving the capture of Soerbaja for the Miri SNLF on a 2OC. Capturing these four hexes in this manner costs zero ASPs. The capture of Batavia, and Banka requires 2 ASP. This would leave the JP with 2 ASP (under ISR) for other adventures. The difficulty with a weak hand under ISR for me is not ASPs, but battle hex limitations. 

Now no plan survives the first shot, so view this as a template, not a formula, but hopefully this gives you a more tactical explanation on how to take the DEI and still have logistic energy to take a couple of other locations. Also, remember that spending a few activations in Burma in the opening turn can have long range benefits and does not require any ASPs. It is how you use the remainder of your remaining resources not used in the first turn capture of the DEI that shapes your strategy going forward. 

Lastly, this is not the only way to successfully open the game as the Japanese, just a demonstration on some key themes to consider when laboring under the twin obstacles of a weak hand and early ISR.

Happy Holidays all,

Mark

    Posted by markherman at 10:02 AM EST
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    Tuesday, 14 February 2012
    FTP CRT Debate continues
    Topic: For The People Material
    The flaws of the CRT are not merely a personal opinion, but are supported by history. Cold Harbor was not a 5/3 result. It was closer to a 5/2. Confederate losses did not exceed 5,000 for the entire battle. A 5/3 result would put rebel losses at something close to 7,000. Is this splitting hairs? Certainly, but when playing the game I never had a battle that seemed like Fredericksburg, Franklin, Cold Harbor, or Ezra Church, where the losses were of such a a wide disparity. In my experience the CRT works wonderfully for pre-1864 engagements, but does not model the power of entrenchments with the same effectiveness.

    I could of course make an esoteric argument that all of it is personal opinion, since figures are rarely so accurate. Flaws abound in each game. I prefer the Victory Games classic, but it does occur in a political void, which makes it imperfect. My point here is that my view of the CRT is not just a cavalier personal opinion. Regardless, my problems with For the People have more to do with the way the game plays in totality than it does with the CRT or its simulation value. I believe on the later point is succeeds quite well.



    This initial comment is beneath you and not in keeping with a adult conversation, but typical of the internet. I will also predict that no matter what I say or demonstrate it will not be sufficient to change your mind and as I will tire long before you do, so you will get the last word for whatever that is worth.

    My comment on the popularity of the game was in reference to your negative review comment. I do not care that you do not like the game and like others. I have lived that experience for over 35 years, so get in line. Those who like the game give the same reasons for liking it as you do for not liking it. My point was not your review which I stated was well considered and thoughtful, but your one line dismissal of a great deal of work and analysis.

    Eric Lee's game is awesome and as one of the lead playtesters who had real input, good news. I would also note that Eric Lee in his own words rates FTP as one of the best games ever designed on the topic, kind words from an old friend. 

    Now to my main bone of contention. First off the remarks smack of Wikipedia. There is a range of historical facts on the losses at Cold Harbor that differ significantly by approximately a factor of 2, so from the analysts do not agree by a significant margin. At the end of the day I had to state my view that differs from yours, but stating it is an historical fact is not credible as even the experts are off by a factor of two using the same data but using different assumptions. Like all of these authors I have done my own research and come up with my own view, clearly not in line with yours.

    The low end Union losses are shown to be in the 6-7000 range and the high end is close to 15,000. The same goes for the CSA losses that range from 2,500 to 5,000, just for June 3rd, but even though June 3rd is the main focus there are a series of engagements across a broad area over a week period. At the FTP scale one card does not represent one day, but at a minimum a major offensive muscle movement. Bottomline at the scale of FTP a card play represents a significant number of engagements over a period of time that is imbedded in a four month period. You state a flawed CRT based on the notion that you calculate the losses for Cold Harbor as a 2 and I come up with 3, so at the end of the day we disagree by one SP which is the granularity of this design and most others at this scale. So all I can surmise is your standard of whether a crt is flawed is a rounding error based on a narrower view of what a card play represents. 

    I have looked at the same data and applied additional tests that constitute losses as a percentage of forces employed in addition to relative losses. However at the end of the day you are stuck with some atomic level of granularity, so no matter what happens, the same is true for The Civil War and the rest that use the 5-6k, one division SP that as Eric Lee states was a Dunnigan view that I agree with. At the end of the day you cannot go below the atomic level set by the smallest unit in any design be it one man or one division. What people generally like is linear monotonic CRTs, basically more is better with some minor variation. Unfortunately most combat outcomes are non-linear as well stated by a range of Ops Research papers produced around the Centenial. I used these and other very analyses and drew several conclusions, but the main one is linearity is not part of the actual facts.

    My view at the end of the day was not raw casualties, but divisions made ineffective. In FTP it takes approximately 2400 casualties to make a division ineffective (40%, but some division became ineffective at less and greater percentages, with the mean around this value), which puts the CSA losses at 2-3 sps for the May 31st-June 3rd actions. The USA losses are between 4-6 sps for the same period. At a fundamental level I feel that Rhea and Trudeau who did more recent and extensive number counts would tend to round up not round down the CSA losses and the CRT will produce the 4-6 USA losses. The other issue is CSA end strength counts for this period are notoriously inflated as desertions and detachments are poorly accounted for and units were encouraged to inflate their end strength to draw extra rations. This puts emphasis on rounding up. In the end I have the CSA forces on the line as about 25% less than the approximately 57k to 62k reported by the various roll calls. The Union numbers are also inflated, but by a lesser factor. In the end if you have studied these numbers as long as I have, there is no agreement and at the end of the day you have to pick a place. In your estimation we disagree by one CSA SP constituting a flawed CRT. in my view we are using different calculations. What most sources do agree on is that Lee lost a greater proportion of his force than Grant did even given the disparity in losses in this one short set of engagements.

    My conclusion is that the historical Cold Harbor is either 6-3 or 5-3 not 6-2. No combination of sources comes up with a 3-1 loss ratio and all sit somewhere around 2-1, which the FTP CRT will produce although my personal view is it is less than that as I think that Rhea has done a deeper analysis of the numbers and the returns. However that is an opinion not a fact as Rhea and myself were not there and the records even with heroic analysis cannot be fully reconciled.

    As far as your post that you never saw or felt a battle that felt like Fredericksburg I can only ask why? Playing any game a few times does not constitute a valid sample but the CRT makes this all visible. The large battle CRT and the CRT in general is built around the notion of a 6-1 dice outcome to handle the historical outliers. So the CRT can and has on many documented tournament outcomes a 1/6 SP loss exchange and everything in between assuming that one side has no drms versus one that has maximum drms. Note that a Burnside led army probably has +0 modifiers and a Lee-Stuart-Jackson-Longstreet combo almost always generates a 6sp loss. In addition the design has compelling reasons why the UsA might willingly accept this type of battle although my hedge is there is a card, again witness real world tournament activities as demonstration that this happens in most games at least once. So, if you have not seen or felt this type of outcome it is what it is, but the CRT math is quite visible in this example.

    What should be obvious is the CRT behaves in a non-linear fashion based on the drms. For example in a medium battle with no drms, say Fremont versus Polk the medium CRT is defense dominant. Put Sherman versus Polk and the attacker is slightly advantaged, put Sherman versus J Johnston and the CRT becomes defense dominant again. Put the AoNVa at its height versus Burnside, Hooker etc. and it is once again attacker advantaged. My point is the non-linear nature of the CRT is designed to handle a wide variety of situations to include everyone that is recorded. 

    Anyway, post your next message where you disagree, you win. As I said I have never seen an internet conversation change anyones starting positions. In any case it has been fun trading perspectives.

    Mark

    Posted by markherman at 10:38 PM EST
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    Monday, 27 June 2011
    Historical Justification in Game Design
    Topic: For The People Material
    "FTP is an outstanding game that is very, very well balanced and has wonderfully inventive and absolutely elegant systems, but in game play will generally not yield a narrative that is familiar to anyone with any knowledge of the actual Civil War." 


    I appreciate the kind words on the design, but you raise an interesting point about the narrative value of any wargame. I would first offer my Clio Corner #1 where I cover your point directly. 

    The question that I always face when designing a game is how to capture the strategic situation with all of the considered strategic choices, while factoring in player hindsight. Unless you deeply study any particular historical set of events the narrative history, that which happened, is the standard for judging the historical path. Although this should be a starting point there is a basic view that the historical narrative is the baseline and the most probable path. In my mind that is a false assumption to make about any historical situation. All one can say is that this is what happened and the objective standard that any book must meet. 

    Wargames in a way have to meet a higher standard. Once you consider 'what if' history you have to research deeply enough to understand what the historical participants thought was possible. One of the biggest 'historical' critiques of FTP is the unrealistic way in which forces can raid off of their supply lines. I have commented on this before and would ask anyone interested to find those posts, but just last night reading in the OR I found a letter from Lee to Davis during the Gettysburg campaign that he (Lee) intended to maintain his army in the North into the Autumn without a rail connection. Clearly Lee is not worried about the unrealistic tactic of maintaining his army on his opponents resources. Then of course there is the ultimate raid, Sherman's March to the Sea. 

    My point being is the kindly worded comment reflects the writers tolerance for historical 'what if', which we all possess in greater or lesser degrees. All I can say is all parts of the FTP narrative have a basis in the historical narrative that did not happen, but was considered. 

    FTP requires some skill to play well. I make no excuses for that since I believe that is why we are having this type of discussion over a decade after publication with an ongoing tournament adding to our collective understanding. The net result is in any unique game play situation if a player gambles or does not correctly anticipate how things might evolve the historical paths not taken can create for some interesting game play and for some the perception that the game has gone down an unreasonable path. Given my earlier comments I firmly believe that everything in the game follows a reasonable 'what if' but we all have a different tolerance for what that would be. 

    Mark


    Posted by markherman at 9:33 AM EDT
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