21 March 2012

GameTalk - Doctrine and Tactics

Should games enforce historically accurate battle tactics and doctrine, or should they allow players to use ahistical methods in the name of game-play and "what if" theories? Do you allow the French and Spanish fleet to turn into and meet the British at the battle of Trafalgar (thereby preventing the Brits from "cutting the line")? Must Napoleon's Infanty close on the enemy in an assualt column formation, or can they deploy into firing lines?

By: Jack Nastyface


S O said...

It's fine enough if historical methods work accurately and ahistorical methods work plausibly.

That is, if the title is claimed to be a simulation.

Brian said...

Yes and yes. (Grognews has a way of putting these questions....)

If at least part of the designer's intention is to impart some knowledge of the historical practices and limitations of the day, then players should be enjoined to use the historical methods, so they can at least understand some of the difficulties the original historical combatants laboured under. For example, an important reason why the French closed on the enemy in assault columns was because their infantry were not as thoroughly trained and tightly disciplined as the British, and so relied on the mass of the crowd to break the thin lines they advanced upon.

Lee did not have field radios at Gettysburg, so why should we have games that permit the Confederate player to act as if he did? We do it in the name of speed and simplicity (and fun), but it's not much of a "simulation" at all, and doesn't help players to understand much of the historical situation beyond "he was 'ere and they were there, and so he went for 'un."

On balance, though, a game system ought to be sufficiently flexible that players could experiment with some ahistorical tactics and what-ifs. That's an important reason why we game after all - trying to find a way Lee could win, instead of lose again for the 400th time.

besilarius said...

It can be a little rough if the game is historical, and the gamer breaks with doctrine.
Saw a game set in an attack by Warsaw Pact into West Germany. The WP commander broke all his mech units down and played them as scouts. This allowed a heck of a lot of RPG teams operating individually.
The fact that the real Warsaw Pact did not train it's troopers to act like that, made no difference to him.
Ultimately, he lost the game because the small teams were too fragile to take any damage. However, it ruined the game for the folks trying to play a game based on the real differences between Nato and WP.
He just didn't see why doctrine mattered, when the rules allowed you to try different tactics.

Kevin (The Big Board) said...

Balance..Balance. Its all about Balance.
If the game permits alternate approaches try them (TWW).
If it does not (PF) then play to the system and hopefully history.
If you have the luxury of multiple plays and willing partners who want to experiment with what if, that is a big part of gaming culture.