#Wargame Thoughts – On being a controlled stochastic determinist

This week I continued playtesting a wargame prototype for a fellow gamer I met at CONNECTIONS 2019. Doing so has got me thinking about wargame design. He never asked me to sign an Non-Disclosure Agreement but I am going to be cautious here and not go into too many specific details and instead talk in generalities.

By way of background, I am from the school of wargamers that generally plays to study and learn. In this respect, I am a simulationist. That said, over time I also developed a taste for games that are enjoyable to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Even then, I still seek out those teaching moments but, like the Teachers Guide to 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution from Academy Games has shown me, it does not take a “simulation” to make a game “historical” and able to deliver learning moments.

The sorta-secret wargame prototype I am playtesting attempts to recreate the lower operational-level of combat on the Western Front in World War II. Actually, it it much more generic than that. So generic that, although I see the ‘theme’ and the units in the order of battle, it could be set in World War II or the Cold War era. One major item of feedback to the designer is going to be the question: “What are you trying to wargame here?”

The designer has some interesting , even innovative, design ideas but I am not sure they are enough to make a complete game out of. I feel that the designer has focused too much on his innovative idea and forgot about the rest of the game. Maybe I am being unfair; he may be early in the design process and needs a good developer to take his game to the next level.

Another part of the design that bothers me is the designer’s use of a very deterministic combat model. In the designer’s rules-as-written, there is no random determinator (such as dice or cards) used in combat. Attacks use Strength Points (SP) to determine hits. On defense, every SP can take two hits – the first disrupts the SP and the second destroys it. The application of hits is done at the choice of the defender. If hit twice, the defender has a choice of ‘disrupting’ 2x SP (if present) or destroying a single SP. To this old grognard the designer’s approach, although simple, is just too deterministic. I want to roll a die! I want to see if that lone SP defending can defy the odds and make that heroic last stand and sell itself dearly to slow down the offense. I don’t want to play McNamara’s war and reduce combat to a simplistic accounting exercise. I am a ‘controlled stochastic’ combat modeler, not a strict determinist.

“Controlled stochastic?” That’s an oxymoron, you say! To further explain, I don’t want just to reduce everything to just a random roll of a die. A combat roll must be balanced and ‘make sense.’ In 1775 Rebellion the dice have Hit, Flee, and Command results. Regular units have a better chance to hit whereas Militia units have a higher chance of fleeing. A simple application of a stochastic element balanced by history. In this prototype, maybe artillery attacking a unit in an Open Hex scores a hit on a roll of 1-5 on a d6. Against a unit in a Rough Hex a hit may only be on a roll of 1-4 and in the Woods hits only on 1-3. Some criticize this approach as “Yahtzee combat” but to me it is a simple way to introduce the vagaries of war using controlled stochastic determinism.


Feature image: Trevor N. Dupuy, father of the Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model (TNDM) and the Quantified Judgement Model (QJM). Read about Col. Dupuy and TNDM/QJM at the Dupuy Institute.

One comment

  1. Probably the best line in this post: “I don’t want to play McNamara’s war and reduce combat to a simplistic accounting exercise.”

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