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  • in reply to: What is Wargaming? #32429
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I suspect the Reiswitz’ (not to mention Moltke) might have taken a dim, not to say contemptuous, view of wargaming as a kind of amicable exchange of brainfarts n’ giggles.

    Perhaps. But that doesn’t matter. Although hobby wargaming might have originated from professional wargaming, the goals of both are different. Mixing them up in discussions like this only adds to the confusion.

    Apart for a few very atypical examples, there is zero to none crosspolination between hobby and professional wargaming today. Hobby wargaming is either focused on imaginary universes, or – in the best case – trying to gain some insights in military endaveours in our past. Professional wargaming is mostly used as a prediction tool for reallife events. Hobby wargaming is designed as a game to have fun, prof wargaming is designed as a training tool.

    Apart from a shared heritage (and we might discuss even that), I don’t see many similarities.


    in reply to: What is Wargaming? #32393
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    Wargaming is playing with toy soldiers, telling stories inspired by military history.

    Everything else -even the rules- is only there to streamline the activities a bit.

    in reply to: Index for Battlegames magazine #32105
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    By now, the entire run for MWBG has also been indexed, and I started with Wargames Illustrated (up to issue 67 so far).

    in reply to: What Do You Want In A Rule Set? #29646
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    1. Immersion, and 2. Elegant mechanics and design.

    Immersion is when you enter the zone of “suspension of disbelief”. I want a game to create the feeling that you are actually present on the battlefield, that every action you take is not simply “rolling dice”, but that feel you are actually commanding your troops, manoeuvring your battalions, shooting your cannon. It is hard to achieve, and it more a matter of taste than anything else, but I do belief a good ruleset can bring the player into that zone. Prerequisite is that the mechanics feel natural and have some meaning outside the gaming engine. Every mechanic should have a good equivalent meaning on the battlefield.

    Elegant mechanics is when the rules are designed around a few common mechanics that tie in together very well. It is rather easy to design rules with mechanics for movement, melee, shooting and morale, which are all different subsystems with no common ground. E.g. for shooting you roll D6 vs. a target number, for morale you roll a D100 on a table, each of these with an endless list of modifiers etc. That is lousy game design.

    A well designed ruleset can blend these subsystems into a single coherent gaming engine, where the subsystems work together, rather than being seperate consecutive and independent phases during the turn. Roleplaying games have gone much farther in this, e.g. skill-based systems such as the BRP (Call of Cthulhu, Runequest), where every action (whether it is talking, fighting, searching, …) in essence is a d100 roll vs. a skill number.

    The main advantage of such a well-designed set is that the players develop an intuition of how the rules work, rather than having to look up every single rule. Sure, after many games you will know the rules by heart, but with incoherent rulesets, there is no underlying logic to interpret situations. Welld esigned rulesets provide players a framework to add, manipulate, adjust, interpret the rules themselves, exactly because they see and feel the common design fundamentals.

    in reply to: Lowering the cost of entry #27200
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I don’t quite agree with this statement. Studying military history is exactly what the hobby of studying military history is all about. Studying it and actively playing with it and intermingling it with one’s creative side through modelling and painting is what the historical wargaming hobby is about.

    Ok, that’s what I meant. Sorry for the confusion.

    But, the point still remains that you should at least an interest in military history. And that means you should be willing to read something about it, or watch documentaries, or whatever. And that takes time.

    I cannot imagine someone playing a Napoleonics game without knowing squat about the Napoleonic period or Napoleonic campaigns. Perhaps you only have a passing knowledge, and that’s perfectly fine when starting out. But as you continue playing that period, people will look up more knowledge, no?

    But about entry points: It’s perfectly acceptable for a teenager to get interested in WW2 because he saw a single movie. Even though the movie is factually incorrect, that will not stop him from entering wargaming. And in practice, no wargamer will stop him. So I see entry points as very accessible. It’s only when you start to care about different types of troops, tanks, equipment, at a later stadium, that people will naturally start to read more.

    I do think it’s a myth that the “historical wargaming community” (whoever that is) requires in-depth knowledge from people when starting out. You might bump into a few grumpy grognards that give you a bad experience, but that’s a social relations problem, it’s not a hobby problem.

    BTW, I play historicals as well as fantasy. I even started in fantasy and scifi. I see no large divide in attitudes or approaches to the hobby. I do see a divide between gamers of different generations, but that’s something else.

    in reply to: Lowering the cost of entry #27067
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I think when veteran gamers are discussing on how to get youngsters into the hobby, they are having the wrong discussion, because it is not them who will lure a 15yr old into miniature wargaming.

    Teenagers are drawn into the hobby by slightly older teenagers. No teenager will think a hobby played by his granddad is cool. There are exceptions, but hobbies are chosen based on what a peer group is doing, not what someone 2 generations removed is doing. And when I look at the local cons, there are PLENTY of youngsters playing. Of course, they don’t care about the tactics of Frederick the Great, but they do care about their fantasy and scifi armies. As I once did. I started with fantasy gaming when I was 16 in 1982, and only made the jump to historicals 10 years later.

    What I think you can do as a veteran gamer in your local club or FLGS is setting up the logistics in providing a good atmosphere, because young people fail miserably at those ;-), but leave the proselytizing to the young people.  And you definitely should talk to gamers in their 20s, who are slowly making the decision to be in the hobby for life, in showing them what historicals are all about, because most of them will have been drawn in through fantasy and scifi.

    As for the observation above that researching military history is a lot of work, and that is is barring a low-level entry, well … studying military history is exactly what the hobby is all about, right? If you are not willing to read up on your military history, then what are you doing in historicals in the first place? Just as a fantasy player should read up the background stories shaping the fantasy universe, a historical player should be willing to study the period. Now, you might argue about the required depth of the study, but there’s always a few cheap Osprey’s you can read – nothing wrong with that.

    The counterargument is that it’s only about the game and the toys, and screw history! But that would be a different hobby!

    in reply to: What are the good podcasts nowadays? #25594
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    Currently, there are two podcasts I listen to during my paint sessions:

    HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast

    The nice thing is is that each episode a story is being discussed, so you can follow along by (re)reading all your Lovecraft material.

    And Meeples and Miniatures for miniature wargaming.


    in reply to: What is a narrative wargame? #24441
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I imagine in an educational context, you could institute a lose turn structure where you just go around the table and let people make decisions.

    That’s exactly what we did in our matrix-inspired games.

    Every player in turn gets to formulate the next course of action, and other players can amend to it or propose alternatives. However, there will be a vote if there is more than 1 option, with ties resolved in favour of the player whose turn it is. Since we use voting tokens, and every player can put more tokens on the table if they think it is an important issue for their missions, the original proposal can still be outvoted.

    (voting tokens are lost, but one can also skip a turn, and gain D3+3 voting tokens back).

    in reply to: What is a narrative wargame? #24363
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I like this style of gaming a lot, and in my gaming group (as I mentioned before in this thread), we have experimented quite a lot with this format. A full account of these experiments can be read in Battlegames #33 (probably still available from Henry Hyde’s site as a back issue), but here are some highlights:

    – There is a big battle set up

    – each players gets 3 (secret and random) missions, which can tie in to both sides. E.g. “Unit x has to lead the cav charge” “Keep unit Y out of battle” “Try to perform a two-flank attack with the army …”. These are written from the point-of view of local field commanders, to add character and perspective.

    – Players in turn can make a suggestions about what happens next. We have experimented with a GM assigning probabilities, with voting systems, veto-tokens (once per game), tokens that allowed certain actions (one side or the other, general environment, both sides, …).

    – Once a course of action has been decided, the action takes place and is resovled using an underlying combat engine (if needed).




    in reply to: Creating points values #21053
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    Another issue with determining point values that is often conveniently forgotten is the non-transitivitiy of the “being stronger than”-relation. The classic example is rock-papers-scissors. What is the point value of rock? paper? scissors?

    One way to look at the problem is saying that when given a random choice, each option is as likely to win. Hence, all choices have equal point values.

    However, once the choices have been made, the probability of winning is not equal anymore. If I pick rock for 1 point, and you pick scissors for 1 point, the game is balanced in my favour. Whatever you do, you can’t win anymore. So the “fairness” of the point system in this game lies in the selection of forces, not in the gameplay itself. The counterargument is that over the course of many games, everything will average out – and that is correct! But this does not imply “fairness” when playing a single game. A variant of this counterargument is that when one has to choose a large force of 100 units (each being rock, paper, or scissors), the total battle (consisting of 100 individual skirmishes) will balance out. But even then forces of 100 units will not be equal. E.g. an army of 100 rocks (100 points) will still beat an army of 100 scissors. However, it will draw against an army that has an equal proportion of all three.

    Translated to the wargaming table: are points determined to provide a fair balance during troop selection, or during gameplay? There is a difference … (Cfr. also Magic The Gathering. Is the winner determined during deckbuilding? Or during actual gameplay?)

    And things get more complicated if in your made-up fantasy world there is an abundance of stones and a scarcity of scissors… 😉


    As an amusing additional example, consider the following six-sided dice, each with different numbers:

    Dice A: 3 3 3 3 3 3
    Dice B: 2 2 2 2 6 6
    Dice C: 1 1 1 5 5 5
    Dice D: 0 0 4 4 4 4

    If you do the math (highest roll wins), then A beats B with probability 66.6%; B beats C; C beats D; and D beats A. What point values would you assign to each die?

    This is not to say that point values do not have meaning (it is not my preferred style of wargaming, but that is another discussion 🙂 ). But, it is important to realize that points do no necessarily imply that both forces have an equal chance of winning the game.

    in reply to: Best army transport/storage system? #20983
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    Magnetic sheets and metal bases are IMO the best solution.

    in reply to: Creating points values #20981
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    There are really two issues to consider when computing point values:

    1. How much is a single unit worth?

    This can be rather easily determined by consider a “standard” unit, give that standard unit a nominal point value of 10, and them compute (probability theory) how much units it would take to achieve a draw in damage inflicted on a set of standard units. When considering pure damage, this is not too comlplicated. Complications arise when special abilities are considered that are only have an indirect effect on damage.

    2. How to put together an army?

    Usually, a linear sum of point values of individual units is considered. E.g. you have an army of 200 points, that means you can pick 10 units of 5 points each and another 10 units of 15 points.

    BUT! This assumes that point values of multiple units adhere to a linear model. Often, this is not the case. The underlying gaming engine often does not behave linearly, hence 2 units of 10 points are not the same as 1 unit of 20 points, although both units behave correctly vs the standard unit as computed under step 1.

    The Lanchester combat model illustrates this nicely — the strength of a number of units (under certain assumptions) equals not its number but the square of its number.


    I once had the idea of having players bid for units. E.g. many different units with different capabilities are available, give players a budget, let them bid, and after a whole series of games a “fair price point” for every unit would be the result. However, this would take a lot of bidding phases and games, but it could converge quite quickly. Collectible card games such as Magic The Gathering have shown that this can work in practice.

    in reply to: Let's talk about perspective based wargames #20463
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    As a rule of thumb, an interesting game would provide the player with roughly 10 different units for which decisions have to be made each turn. That would imply the game should scale 2 levels up to reprsent an entire force.

    E.g. if the total force on the table is a company, which roughly has 3 or 4 platoons, each having 3 or 4 sections, you end up with 9-16 sections. In the rules, a section should then be a single, undivisible playing piece, without any further granularity. This also corresponds to “real life” where a commander might provide stipulations in his orders 2 levels down, but not 3.

    As a player, I am now in command of each of these 9-16 sections. Whether I am taking up the role of 9 different section commanders, or a single company commander, is irrelevant for the gameplay. I play all those roles simultaneously, and communications between them happen in my head.

    But, am I really a section commander in this game? Probably not, since I can only decide where a full section is being placed, typically the prerogative of the platoon commander. But, if I have to act on my own initiative with my section when surrounded, then, yes.

    Am I the company commander in this game? Most likely yes, since I get to decide where my platoons are being placed. But also no, since I do not have to worry about any coordination happening with other company commanders on my flanks.

    So, you take up different roles in thegame, but typically only specific tasks of the real-life equivalent depending on the role. But combined, it provides for a good game.


    in reply to: What is a narrative wargame? #20451
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I remember reading about a concept a while back where the opposing players would make a small list of arguments why a particular encounter would be resolved to their advantage, the referee would then evaluate the reasonings and make a decision or a suitable random roll. Always wanted to try it out.


    That’s exactly what matrix-games are all about.  It can work very well, given all players have the right mindset.

    in reply to: What is a narrative wargame? #20410
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    Narrative wargaming for me is about putting the narrative first instead of winning the battle. The setup of most wargaming is two sides vs each other, and one side wins the battle and hence the game.

    A narrative game deviates from that in that the winning the battle is not the object of the game, but developing the story is.

    In my gaming group we have developed several narrative techniques that explore such setups. One succesful experiment involved many players, and to each player objectives were given that had to be reached. Objectives could be related to both armies. E.g. “Charge with cav unit x”, or “hide from the battle with inf unit y”. Each player takes turns, influencing the flow of the battle, usually through matrix-style mechanics, possibly using voting such as in committee games. But the battle is only the backdrop against which the individual story of units and officers is written. The battle is not the goal of the game, but the various objectives of all sorts of units and individuals on the field. I wrote this up for Battlegames #33 a few years ago.

    Another experiment involved the GM telling a story about an historical battle, moving the actors (units and individuals) around the table to illustrate what is happening. All players have interrupt cards, listing verbs, adjectives, etc., which they can use to interrupt the story and influence the story. It is up to the GM to incorporate these interrupts in the main storyline. Players “win” by trying to influence the story the most.

    Anyway, i do think that elements from storygames can be included in wargaming, but I also think we then need to reinvent  the classic setup and break away from the classic each-player-controls-one-army setup.


    in reply to: How do you feel about new game mechanics? #20402
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    Rules that introduce new mechanics should be seen as academic research papers: someone tries something new, and writes up about it. Perhaps nobody likes it, or doesn’t buy it, and the new idea peters out. But perhaps many people like it, and a few years down the road, the idea is polished enough that it gets published as a commercial product. Very often, that is not the same person as the one who originally came up with the unpolished gem.

    I also experiment quite a lot with different approaches to wargaming. E.g. see my Red vs Blue article (mass-participation real-time wargaming) in Miniature Wargames a few issues back. My intention is never to publish these ideas as commercial rules. But if someone is inspired by the idea and wants to develop it further, be my guest.

    in reply to: Wargaming Rooms #13998
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I had my wargaming room redone this year.

    Key points:

    – Not the biggest table possible. Adapt your games to your table, not the other way around.

    – Nice room, no storage junkyard

    – I do not use a table as such, but use drawing cabinets, upon which a playing surface is placed. Saves some space since you have no table legs.

    Some pictures:

    in reply to: Do you have to make your own convention game? #11961
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    This sounds like sour grapes from someone pipped to a prize of some kind. 

    Oh no, not at all!

    I was just commenting on an evolution I see, and perhaps a changing attitude in what the purpose of a convention game is. Is the game only there for the game and for people to participate in; or is the game there to show visitors what is possible in the world of wargaming – a sort of show-and-tell so-to-speak?

    I always saw conventions games as a way of clubs or gaming groups to “show their best”, and that implies it’s your best, not someone else’s best.

    The fact that prizes are involved at some conventions is only a side-issue that I did not even consider at first.

    in reply to: The Pros & Cons of Persistent Orders #11188
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    Although I very much like the idea of written/persistent orders, I always have seen them as problematic during the actual gameplay. It really requires both players to have the same mindset about the goals of the game. In a sense, a game with written orders focuses more on watching the plan unfold on both sides – and be curious about that – rather than wanting to “win” the game (whether straight encounter battle or interesting scenario). Without an umpire, it can be a real hassle to have a game with written orders play out smoothly.

    Example: suppose a unit has an order: “March to and occupy the hill. Engage enemy if necessary”. Suppose the unit does that, and finds a strong enemy unit on the hill. Do they have to attack immediately? Can they wait for reinforcements? Can they deviate from the original order? This touches on the problem what a change in the original order is, and whether it requires a new order according to some game mechanic. Problems like this have resulted in written orders containing zillions of if-then-else clauses.

    The core of the problem is that the local unit commander, who should give a reasonable interpretation to the order, and the commander who originally wrote the order, are not the same person IRL, but are the same person in the game. There is no real consequence for not executing an order as written in the game. Hence, I do think an umpire is a necessity in games that use written orders. When in doubt, the umpire takes the role of the local commander, and executes the order to the best of his knowledge.

    I have experimented with (multi-player) games in which player wrote orders for an entire force, then subforces were randomly allocated, so one could end up with a force on the enemy’s side. Each player was then bound to execute the orders written by someone else, and a player got a score from the original order-writer. However, even then, it was difficult to avoid any discussions about correct interpretations of the orders.

    in reply to: Problems with using historical movement rates? #10532
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    1. I think you make the classic mistake of computing movement rates bottom-up (“I can run 100m in 10 seconds, so in 10 minutes I can run 6 km”). Especially for large-scale formations, movement is only partially determined by how fast a man can walk.

    2. Movement rates in wargames cannot be seen independent from other aspects of the gaming rules, esp. fire resolution. If a turn is 20 minutes, are all 20 minutes spend continuously on marching without firing, and is the fire phase only firing without moving? In the rules, all action in those 20 minutes is discretized in those 2 clean seperate phases, but if you assume that firing is happening throughout those 20 minutes, as well as moving, the aggregrate of all those actions should be averaged out in those two distinct phases. Hence, movement rates are often slower that what would get by a simple bottom-up calculations, because not all the time during those 20 minutes is spend on moving.

    3. In the end, it doesn’t matter that much, since an accurate ground scale relative to troop density is an illusion in most wargame scenarios anyway. After spending too much time thinking about this issue, I have taken the stance that “if it feels right on the table, that’s ok with me”.

    in reply to: Defining Genres of Rule Design #10458
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    One angle I have not seen discussed yet is that a good wargame (i.e. a game played with toy soldiers) should not necessarily try to simulate/emulate/mimic/… the historical record, nor be even based on it. I have played perfectly enjoyable (historical) wargames that evoke the emotion and popular view of a certain period – the only reference the players had being a couple of movies, some comics, some childhood historical novels, and perhaps an Osprey or two.

    In current wargaming design thinking, this is often frowned upon – but I do think it is a valid path to take for wargames design. After all, fantasy and scifi wargaming do nothing but that. So why not historical wargaming? Why should historical wargaming be based on the accurate historical record, and not on the romanticized version of historical events we find in movies and fiction books?

    In my gaming group, we have developed our own house rules for the ACW over a period of several years. After each game, there was always a round of discussion, about what rule mechanics did work (or not), what the feel of the game was, whether the mechanics could produce a good game etc. None of us are deep readers about the ACW. But currently we do have a ruleset that, for everyone of us, evokes the imagery of the ACW. Now, I do admit this is not only due to the rules – it is as well about stunning visuals (figures and scenery), good scenario design, and a certain gentlemen-like spirit of everyone involved that the social aim of the evening is to play a game.

    Granted, a game played with toy soldiers should be inspired by military history. But the point I want to make is that there are more routes to achieve that than just look at the bare statistics, tactical doctrine, and procedures of historical battles.

    in reply to: Where do you start in designing a game? #10453
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    I often write rules around a few game mechanics that I want to be the core of the rules. This might be a particular way to resolve combat, or a particular way to do the turn sequence. Of course, I have thought beforehand whether the mechanic is going to model something I really want to include in the game for the given period and scale of the game.

    I consider those mechanics “immutable” and everything else as mutable. I.e. all other rules can be modified, but the core mechanics, which are the heart of the game, should not be touched. Otherwise, we would end up with a different game.

    As an example, in our rules for scifi skirmishes, there are two mechanics which cannot be touched: each figure has a number of action points, and each action in the game does cost one or more action points; and firing resolved by throwing a die vs. distance (in hexes). Most other rules are then designed against those core ideas.

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