I love history. I especially love the history of conflict and the wars that have had a hand in shaping our world. I also love games and their strategic goodness as I try to best my opponent in head to head combat. When these two elements are merged, they create a very engaging and interesting type of game that I enjoy quite a lot. I love to take a look at historical battles to see if I can make a different outcome after pushing cardboard counters around a map and rolling dice for a few hours.
I love the fact that in a good conflict simulation, players are given the opportunity to try their hand at history to see if they can possibly do better than their historical counterparts in the modeled conflict. I love having to survey the battlefield and come up with some novel approach to attacking the enemy. In these conflict simulations, we already know the historical outcome, and even have a very good idea about why things turned out the way that they did. With this knowledge, I really enjoy studying the terrain as well as the enemy force capabilities and their locations, trying to come up with a tactic or some novel strategy that will allow me to gain an advantage that wasn’t found or exploited in the historical conflict.
Recently, I have been playing Holland ’44: Operation Market-Garden from GMT Games solo and have really enjoyed trying to figure out various strategies for both the Allies and the Germans. As we know historically, the operation was not an Allied success as various factors, including weather, traffic congestion, lack of understanding regarding the terrain (polder) and poor decisions, led to a failed operation with nearly 17,000 Allied casualties. In my solo play, I have struggled mostly with the three Airborne divisions (the 101st and 82nd American and the British 1st Airborne division) in having them succeed with their landings and their ability to guard and defend so many different roads into each of their sectors. Historically, the 1st Airborne was simply decimated as they struggled to capture Arnhem Bridge. I have experienced this difficulty as well, as the SS units in this sector are pretty darned good and have not given much ground.
I have though had really great success with the 82nd Airborne near Arnhem Bridge where they have been able to hold the line and keep the Germans out but the 101st Airborne have really struggled in their assignment. They have had the worst luck with their Air Landing Phase rolls and seem to have taken an inordinate amount of casualties as they are trying to land, both in the form of reductions as well as in being Scattered, which makes their movement and Combat Factors worse during the first round after they land. The Germans also blew many of the bridges that they were trying to capture and it has caused significant backup of XXX Corps as they have tried to press up Hell’s Highway to relieve the beleaguered Airborne troops. So, I have experienced some of the same problems that the Allies did historically, and at this point in my play, the outcome appears that it will most likely replicate the historical one.
But, I have seen others on social media doing much better than I have and their Allied forces are taking and keeping their objectives and pushing the Germans to the breaking point. I love this about conflict simulations. Trying my hand at replicating history is such a great experience.
It is no secret that I don’t like to lose. Just ask Alexander. In fact, I despise losing. I have great confidence in myself and my choices and feel that I have a good grasp on strategy and tactics and understand how certain units should perform in combat. But in conflict simulations, the main thing that I hate about the playing out of history is the pre-planned losing. What I mean by this is when a game is designed to model a historical battle, this typically means that the conditions that caused the historical outcome are in place. For example, in the picture below showing the initial setup of the game during The Battle of Stalingrad from Turning Point Simulations, you can see that the poor Russian forces are not only outnumbered but outgunned. This means that the first 4-5 rounds of the game, as was the case historically, will be nothing more than defeat after embarrassing defeat for the Russians as the German warmachine and their Blitzkrieg tactics simply run them over pushing them all the way to Stalingrad before the Russians can stiffen and provide enough units to put up a fight. And that was the case in our game. No matter how I tried to use my units. No matter when and where I was able to move reinforcements up to plug holes. Or utilize terrain to my advantage. The outcome simply was the same with loss after bloody loss. Even when I rolled well, my odds were such that it still meant I really lost, as I would lose units and be pushed back. For this reason, I typically am not a fan of playing the Soviets in any East Front game (I have played The Battle of Stalingrad, No Retreat: The Russian Front from GMT Games, Case Blue from C3i Magazine among a few others) as they typically lose the first few rounds. This doesn’t sit well with me and maybe shows my style in wargaming. But on the bright side, I have learned that this losing means that there is an opportunity for winning. In my example above, I mentioned that even on good rolls, I lost. Well, I lost the individual battle, but as you know, the Soviets main strength was in their numbers. Even when I lost units, there are more replacement units on their way. But for the Germans, there are no units on the way as they pretty much have only what they start the game with. So, this type of game simply requires me to have a paradigm shift with regards to my thoughts on losing. In losing, I am actually getting closer to victory as long as I take one or two of his units with me, or even if I only reduce him. Or, I can focus on how I should best strategically fall back and reposition myself to take advantage of terrain or to allow my reinforcements more time to build up their defenses. In this way, managing losing becomes a game within the game and is something to actually challenge me rather than to focus only on the losing of the individual battles. I still hate it but with this attitude, I am able to enjoy even the dreadful and despair inducing losses experienced on the Eastern Front by the Russians. That is why I both love and hate conflict simulations and will continue to play the underdog side, even if I have next to no chance of winning. The challenge is like the breath in my lungs (but I still hate losing)!
Japan feels that way in Empire of the Sun. If you can’t force the Allies to capitulate, your plan shifts to how to lose the rest of the battles but still win the war.
Agreed. And in the end, this becomes a game in and of itself to try and lose less than was historically seen. I prefer wargames where the sides are generally evenly matched and there is a decent prospect of victory for both sides. The three battles/operations that tend to be the “beat up one side for a while” are Normandy, The Bulge and Operation Barbarossa.
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In part it has to do with the nature of war. What general is going to throw his forces willingly into a “Fair Fight” where the outcome is roughly 50/50? Only a desperate or idiotic one (never mind the Hail Mary battles where victory is a pipe dream) The good general is going to make sure he at least has as much material and qualitative superiority at the point of contact as possible or else he’s not going to fight.
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“If a battle can’t be won, don’t fight it.” – Sun Tzu
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In that sense, perhaps the conflict simulations depicting modern (i.e. 1970s and later) warfare, using hypothetical (rather than real world) scenarios are better balanced; after all, if those hypothetical scenarios had been shown to clearly favor one side or the other, then they wouldn’t have been hypothetical, they would have been fought by the side which had the significant advantage.
It’s the uncertainty and perception of balance that held back the involved powers: you’re not going to risk modern war (which can possibly mushroom to thermonuclear war) on a coin flip.
I think that should be your next Top 3 blog entry: The Top 3 Historically (or Hypothetically) Balanced Conflict Simulations.
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Great article. Very much a reflection of my own attitude. I do enjoy unfair historical battles because I always want to see if I can do better.
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The point of the HATE side is to do better than historical. If not why are you playing. Find a train game.
Of course if its historical and you take a beating for 5-10-20 turns before you turn the tide…it has to happen. Put your big boy pants Grant. It will all be ok. These games let you explore new desperate strategies, and prove you were better than Monty at Market Garden [well a 12 yr would have been better] or Rommel at Tunisa.
I hate to lose…A LOT. Its why I tag #LamentationGenerator for posts on Twitterverse LOL – See Conan for reference point.
Train games aren’t any fun. There is no artillery, supply or odds based CRTs with good DRMs. Thanks for reading.
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It was the same way playing Crescendo of Doom scenarios in the original Squad Leader. Playing scenarios in Poland, France, etc.
The Germans should win, though at least the scenario victory conditions gave the other side a chance because their objective was just to hold for a while or whatever.
We solved that problem by having me play the Germans. That way they always lost!
You are not alone in your hatred of losing. I find myself getting frustrated in games where I am losing even when I constantly come up with excuses for why it is happening (I am playing the “harder” side, I didn’t get enough sleep, my tummy hurts, my opponent is cheating, I don’t know the rules very well, etc.).
There are two sides to this issue though. Wanting a game that is “balanced” for playability (much easier to design games that meet this criteria at the tactical level) or wanting a game that is historically accurate (but maybe very imbalanced) so that players can experience what the real commanders/leaders of the era experienced; even if that means almost certainly losing when playing a certain side.
For me and my gaming buddy, when we play games that feel imbalanced we try and each play both sides and then calculate scores based on who did the best overall. This seems to be a fair way to determine which player is “the best” at a particular game.
One last thing that I will say. I have one good friend who likes to play war games with me while I have a few other friends who are more into lighter euro game type stuff. As a courtesy to my circle of friends and in the name of remaining social I will play just about anything-various euro games included. However, it never seems to fail that it multi-player euro game type games other players always gang up against me and I get eliminated pretty fast. I much prefer two player war games where I have no one to blame for a loss but myself, and no conspiracies working to eliminate me 🙂
I have to chortle a bit reading about your disdain of losing even a single battle as part of a long campaign. How can you expect to cruise through a game with no setbacks, with everything going your own way? Unless you’re playing a 6-year old that’s just not going to happen. In a game where you’re on the defensive, hoping to just hang on until you can turn the tables, you shouldn’t look at those battles individually as “losing”…. if you’re taking some of the enemy with you, or holding out longer than is to be expected, that’s a sort of a win, isn’t it?
Allen. I don’t know that I have concern over losing single battles. As you said, a lot of the time, I find that I have achieved victory by eliminating one or two of his units or even by reducing him in a lopsided attack. My concern and topic for discussion was that many true conflict simulations are very one sided and don’t allow one player to experience a majority of the elements of strategic or tactical warfare. I used the Eastern Front games as an example of what I am talking about. I have played many Eastern Front games as the Russians during the early attacks in 1941 and as the Germans in the later epoch of Operation Barbarrossa. Each have their challenge but as for playability, it becomes very difficult to sit through 3-5 hours of bad odds for attacks that never seem to do anything. I fully understand the opportunity to best the historical result and try to do it better but I personally like more strategic games where I have more options and choices. That was the point of the article. Thanks for reading.
Another perspective on “competitive” wargame play. In recent years, I’ve settled into a routine of playing larger, more complex and “involved” games with opponents via Vassal, which enables “play by email” or, in concert with Skype for voice comms, a “face-to-net” experience. Because these games often take over a year to play to completion, both me and my opponents are more invested in the process than in simply determining a winner and a loser. So, we help each other with tricky rules, we (sometimes) coach each other on tactics and strategems, and in general, concentrate on **both of us** having the best time we can… and ALSO, we’re both trying to win. I can tell you that the experience has been enhanced for us both. The last game I played in this manner took 1.25 years, and it literally came down to the very last turn before I had to concede defeat. But you know what: I felt I played well enough to win, but just ended up coming up short. I wasn’t mad about losing at all.