22 April 2011

Random Wargame Design Thoughts

Feel free to ramble about in the comments on this, but I've got a couple of questions I've been mulling over, and not enough cranial capacity to muddle through good answers right now...

1. I'm wondering how to properly account for out-sized effects in games. For instance, the Koran-shooting incident in the Iraq War caused a shitstorm of trouble for our guys in the street that resulted in a surge of troops onto patrols to beef up our security, as well as a definable increase in enemy capabilities and morale.
- While these are injectable into a game w/ "random" event cards* how are the actual effects of said card applied to the game?
- What are the metrics by which you apply the effects?
- At what point do you "punt" on some genuinely important events b/c accounting for them would create an entirely new sub-system of rules just to deal with them? Is the chrome worth it?

* the appearance of the events is certainly randomizable, but given that it's a stack of pre-printed cards, I don't think the events themselves are truly random with a pre-defined universe of possibilities...

2. Similar to the first one, at least with regard to chrome/subsystems - why don't we see more 'irrelevant' distractors in games? An example would be *any* game that features armed mobs of irregulars, or randomly-spawning mobs, such as LNLP's Day of Heroes. Any time a mob appears, it's a target. The game is designed around combat, and understandably backs out anything not related to that. But how often has a spontaneous mob appeared that was throwing rocks and burning cars because an incompetent ref awarded a questionable PK in soccer game between major rivals? Why not have a spontaneous mob form that has absolutely nothing to do with shooting at the opponent? Yes, it means adding rules to deal with distractors, but is that such a bad thing?

3. Aside from the issues I have with "random" cards (above), how can we put into play the effects that home-front politics, punditry, and media have on front-line engagements, if any?
- Do the headlines of the day effect that day's patrols through the local villages?
- If not, how high in the echelons do you have to go before you start to discern noticeable effects? And what are those effects?
--- Changes in ROE?
--- Changes in morale factors?
--- Some form of resource allocation that allows for the number of actions to be executed?

3 1/2. If you're going to allow the homefront to affect what happens in the field, then can you put in a system to make the reverse true, too? Can an embedded reporter's dispatches from the front change public opinion on the war enough to make for a discernable effect in the loop back? And if so, how do you account for such a presence in the orbat?
A real-world example I can think of is David Blume and the "Blume-mobile" back in '03 in the invasion of Iraq. He was traveling w/ 3-15 MECH and riding on an M88 in the combat trains. People in the military knew from his descriptions exactly where he was; people not in the military have no idea what "combat trains" and "field trains" are or where to find them in march. Blume's broadcasts arguably had an effect on the morale of the populace in the US. But to account for him in a boardgame (or hell, in a computer game, Guardian!) you now need to introduce a journalist into the orbat, and the unit with which he's traveling(!) - in this case, the combat trains, which are never accounted for in a wargame.

I'm sure I'm making this all a lot harder than it needs to be, but I wanted to ask the questions and see what sorts of responses people might have. Or not. :)

By: Brant


Dan Eastwood said...

What if it was a game where one side has no reasonable chance of victory through force of arms, but they might force the stronger side to withdraw by scoring sufficient number of political and media "points". If you can force enough bad press on your opponent, they lose resources. If they lose too much, they have to go home.

I didn't intend that to be a commentary on the situation on Iraq, but this might be a fair way to describe war from the insurgent point of view.

Brian said...

Okay, my quick take on these:

1. The answer to this would often be "it depends". It depends on how intricate your game design is, and whether it's even flexible enough to account for something like this in its play, to any discernible extent at the level you're playing.

I'm not familiar with the particular incident you mention; there was an upswell of activity sure, but how bad was it? How long did it go on? And was the severity/extent/duration at all predictable?

I often think the "chrome" is not worth it, to creat whole new sub-systems of rules and routines for things that may not happen, or could be just as well modelled at the level at which the action takes place by some more abstract and generalized routine.

You can't reliably predict events outside of the theatre of your game, or their ultimate effect. But your game ought to recognize that they do happen.

2. There should be lots of irrelevancies and distractions in games. Many of them were placed there by the designer hisself, but not for the reason you'd think! Seriously, there should be all kinds of things happening in a COIN game that don't have much or anything to do with the player or his actions. You don't see more of this, at least in hobby games, because the players want to do lots of shooting and running around, not tyring to figure out what's a threat and what isn't. Fog of war, and most players don't seem to like the taste of fog much.

3. See 1. I don't think these factors have much to do _directly_ with the guys on the ground; over time, there may be a change in the ROE or a degradation of morale or cohesion, but the Army is still the Army, and it runs on a lot of institutional inertia. Horrible as it was, the My Lai massacre didn't change how the individual American soldier fought in the field, and while it may have been a shock to hear Walter Cronkite intone that the war was lost, it didn't spark a rush for the boats and transports back home.

3.5. Again, while the accounts of correspondents (embedded or not, favourable or not, M88 riding or not) may make for entertaining reading, I don't see them having a discernible effect, at least not in any reasonable time frame.