Thursday, November 4, 2010

The drawbacks of victory points

I picked up the new Decision Games Folio Games series title Arnhem: The Farthest Bridge, which is basically a re-implementation of the classic SPI Arnhem quad game.

There are several interesting changes in the rules, but one that caught my eye is the simplified victory conditions. While the old game was decided by victory points, which could be earned by destroying enemy units and, for the Allies, maintaining units north of the Rhine, the new game's victory condition are much more straightforward. "The Allied player wins the game if he can at any time, (even if only momentarily) occupy at least two of the Arnhem hexes (3423, 3523 or 3524) with any Allied non-airborne/non-glider units." It goes on to say that occupying just one is a draw while if they never occupy any then the Germans win.

This is likely to be an improvement because I've long felt that victory-point based victory conditions have been the bane of wargaming. Now, I'd never argue that they should NEVER be used, but I think they've definitely been overused. They tend to muddy the clarity of a game and don't bear much resemblance to how victory is actually measured by historians, historical commanders, the politicians they worked for nor the public's opinion.

Often they're used when the designer can't think of a more elegant way to reflect the historical reason why commander's made the choices they made.

Playtesting in some Gettysburg game shows that USA players don't defend Cemetery Hill often enough? Well, let's make it worth some victory points! That may work, after a fashion, but I'm unaware of any accounts that suggest Major Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock decided to hold Cemetery Hill on the afternoon of July 1, 1863 because he was worried about Lee getting a "victory point" for it.

Most of the time a military operation is directed towards some aim and either that aim is achieved or it isn't and everyone, from civilian to private to general to president judges victory on whether that aim was achieved or not. Occasionally an aim can be achieved at such a heavy cost as to not seem worth it (often called a Pyrrhic Victory) but even here I'd say that some absolute measure is probably better than some victory point system.

Using victory points can distort play down some very strange lines unless the victory point awards are very carefully calibrated, sometimes to the point of rewarding an actual failure. In the old SPI Arnhem game it's possible for the Germans to win the game even if Arnhem Bridge is captured so long as they manage to cut the supply road a couple of turns. While I understand the rationale behind the rule, the fact of the matter is that no temporary blockage of the road (inevitably soon to be cleared) would have mitigated am Allied breakthrough over the bridge.

And likewise. an Allied advance that manages to kill most of the Germans in the area with low Allied losses might eke out some level of "victory" in the SPI edition of the game but if the Germans still hold Arnhem Bridge then the operation was a failure. Losing a few more battalions would have been of small import for a German army that had just lost entire divisions in the breakout from Normandy and subsequent pursuit The Allies lose a lot of points in the SPI version of the game, but really, if they had taken the bridge the destruction of the 1st Airborne would have been considered regrettable, but would not have turned the victory into a defeat.

Like I said, there are situations where VPs are useful, for example, in situations where attrition was the goal , but I prefer to have victory defined more simply. Almost invariably one side or the other is trying to do something and the other side is trying to stop them. If there are secondary factors at play I think it's better to provide some in-game benefit for doing something than simply handing out VPs for it.

1 comment:

  1. Playing the old 30 years War Quads, I always found it a hassle to keep track of VPs, not overwhelming, just annoying.