Friday, February 8, 2008

Squad Leaders' weighted DYO system

A lot of tactical wargames use some kind of point system to let players craft their own forces in design-your-own scenarios, inspired by the PanzerBlitz DYO system that appeared in the Avalon Hill General (and later reprinted in the Wargamer' Guide to PanzerBlitz). That system, and most subsequent ones, attempted to measure the relative game effect of different units and assign appropriate values.
While helping to set up fair games, this kind of system can lead to very unhistorical battles. There are many real-life factors involving costs, logistics, politics, etc. that affect what weapons and troops are available for a certain battle and most of those factors are not represented in the typical tactical wargame.
Among Squad Leader's many groundbreaking features was a design-your-own system that tried to account for factors other than strict game utility in assigning point values.
The game's "Point Value Chart" assigned values to every unit and fortification included in the base game. These values seem to have been "normed" around the Germans, in that German unit values seem to primarily reflect game usefulness. Supporting this is that German units are used as the base for a scenario generation chart that's also part of the DYO system.
For example, 100 points buys the Germans four 4-6-7 infantry squads, while the same 100 points buys five 4-4-7 infantry squads for the Russians. For the Americans 100 points only buys two 6-6-6 infantry squads at 35 each, but the 30 leftover points can buy a couple of medium machineguns. This example highlights the intent of the system, which is to encourage historically appropriate builds. The Russians are encouraged by the point system to invest in numbers, while the Americans are likely to rely on extra firepower.
Sometimes it seems like this weighting goes too far. A Russian radio and its assocated artillery fire support costs 300 points, as much as 15 squads, but it's so hard to use that no one will ever pick it. Even the German radio/artillery, at 200 points (eight squad-equivilents), is probably over-priced for most players, given the difficulty of using it (multiple die rolls and chit pulls that conspire to keep it from arriving when and where desired). Only a U.S. player, who pays just 150 points (just a little over four squads' worth) for his more effective guns, will often buy it.
While artilery support is discretionary, leaders are not, and here the Russians operate at a severe handicap. Their leaders always cost a lot more, although the difference is most pronounced at the lower levels. This often means that the Russians will have just a handful of leaders, but they may be very good ones. American leaders are also more expensive than their German counterparts, but not so much compared to how much their squads cost, so they will actually end up with a pretty high leader-to-led ratio.
On the other hand, American troops will usually be well-equipped compared to Germans because nearly all U.S. weapons are cheaper than similar German stuff. This includes vehicles, even tanks, which are typically 5-10 points cheaper.
For the Russians the picture is more varied. Some Russian weapons, such as the T-34 tank, light machine gun, 57 mm antitank gun and 82 mm mortar cost the same or less than similar German weapons. But others, such as the M-3 halftrack, heavy machinegun and the simple truck cost a lot more. And some weapons don't even exist. The Russians have no light antitank weapon or flamethrowers or even satchel charges.
While the DYO point system succeeded in its aim of forcing more historical force selection, it really was detrimental to balanced games, which is the reason why players are attracted to DYO in the first place. The system broken down under the complexities introduced in the Squad Leader expansion Cross of Iron and when Advanced Squad Leader came out ASL used a completely different system.
By then, moreover, it was clear that the preferrred method of play for SL/ASL enthusiasts was using historically inspired pre-designed scenarios. Tournament play, for example, where one might expect to see DYO used, instead almost always uses designer scenarios, often custom-made for that tournament.
That the experiment was not a success is attested by its lack of imitators. Subsequent point-based DYO systems in games concentrate on game effect, without usually worrying too much about unhistorical selections. Even in those case where limits are placed, such as the limits on paratroops and partisans in Axis & Allies: Miniatures, the reason is to prevent abuses, not improve historical accuracy.

1 comment:

  1. I tried for years to make Squad Leaders's DYO system work, and I agree - it just doesn't. Who would ever take artillery or air support? Pay 300 points and hope you may get one attack? That buys me 15 squads! We did try taking a scenario, and adding up the points by category (160 infantry points, 500 leader points, 120 support points, etc) and then letting people spend the same amount in that category, but then the Russians became German - we took fewer 4-4-7's and more 6-2-8's, and we would grab 1 10-2 instead of three 8-0's. And who can forget .50 cal HMG's!