Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Real tactics vs. game tactics

One of the peculiar traits of tactical wargames is that they often feature excruiating detail and reward careful play and the intricate integration of units and procedures. An obvious example is Advanced Squad Leader, but even a much simpler game like Tide of Iron or Axis & Allies Miniatures will lead players to ponder fairly involved tactical combinations. It may be important exactly what order certain attacks are conducted or the precise path some unit takes.

All well and good, from a game play standpoint, although it strikes me as rather odd in other ways, especially the contrast with real-world tactics.

Actual battle tactics are usually kept extremely simple, for the very good reason that, paraphrasing v. Clausewitz, in war even simple things are very difficult. In the fear, confusion and fog of battle there's no room for intricate procedures or multi-step tactical evolutions. It's said that the US Army in World War II had just one tactic, the flanking attack. And it was good enough to work from squad level to army level and from Normany to across the Rhine.

I think many tactical wargames overemphasize these intricate maneuvers. It's one of the reasons that I think the classic card game Up Front! may be a more realistic tactical wargame than any hex-and-counter treatment. In Up Front! the maneuvering is very basic and even the intricate parts are heavily masked by the random elements introduced by card play.

1 comment:

  1. I agree Seth, but the challenge from a design perspective is to make a design that is realistic and yet fun. Realistic battles may not be fun. God knows the real battles were not fun. So, many games put in mechanics that make things happen that SEEM realistic to a player, even though they may not be necessary for an accurate portrayal or make sense at the scale of the game. The rolling of defense dice in Tide of Iron may be an example of this. Certainly, an attack dice only version could have been used where the defense factor is fixed. But it is fun to thwart your opponents attack by a good defense die roll and it perhaps also gives the impression of a shell penetrating armor, which I'd argue is one of the aesthetics looked for by tactical wargamers -- at least those who are not pure grognards perhaps.