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Corps Command: Dawn's Early Light» Forums » Reviews

Subject: One Quick First Impression, Chance & Wargaming rss

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Gary Christiansen
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Steve Bucey and I gave this title a spin today. We had some interesting results. I've mixed feelings on the title itself, but the game mechanics and game system merit some observations.

We played Scenario 1 and actually had no problems with the rules. We found the rules corrected problems we'd had with another title in the series and felt there was nothing we needed to have clarified during play. This was pretty good considering we almost always come up with two or three things in a game title to completely confuse play.

As far as I was concerned the quality of production is good. The artwork and graphics are quite nice. We had one problem with Steve not being able to tell the difference easily between rough and clear terrain. That may just have been a color issue mixed with lighting which might have been better.

The design really does have the players in a position to split forces east and west of terrain down the middle of the board. The result is the players must make some strategy decisions based on where to focus their effort. Clumsy and weak decisions potentially could impact either player, though the Nato player has less option to start with. Difficult choices will be more likely for the Warsaw Pact player when they do get forces on the board to start. Soviets will want to either go East for the Nato airbase or West towards Eisenbach. The Nato player has to make a conscious decision to fight the battle forward where the Soviets are coming on, or to fight a whithering withdrawal.

Either way, the Soviets are compelled to force through to get victory points about 2/3rds of the way across the board, and just how to press an advantage in numbers.

Our game turned up a result by end of Day 3 where there'd be almost nothing the Soviets could do to press home for any victory points at all. The damage to the initial onslaught was so strong the Soviet left flank had nearly completely collapsed though reinforcements were threatening to press it back in place. The threat was not actually materializing though.

The reason for this is built into the game's combat mechanism and seemed to be a mounting effect of the die rolls.

The activation system (which I personally am not fond of but works for the game's balance anyway) really only influences whether there's a double activation for one side or the other. That's going to happen a few times in a game regardless of your plans, die rolls or the other events. The die rolls for activation work fine, bringing an element of surprise or confusion with them.

The combat itself though, is peculiar. The combat mechanism requires each unit doing an attack to act individually on the top unit in the defending stack. Two dice are rolled for a hit to determine combat results. Terrain is not badly represented, you get Die Roll Modifiers for a minor number of things which are all highly reasonable.

What doesn't quite feel reasonable is the painful defensive fire impact from the initial natural die rolls. The Soviet player's tanks attacks start at 3 (used as a positive DRM). The Nato player's defense starts at 10 or 11. That means on 2 dice the chance of a straight up hit with the strongest Soviet unit at full strength is about a 42% chance of hitting the Nato tanks. (My error, apologies to Pete, originally I posted it as 28%, though still, even at 42% when almost half of the other results result in a hit on the Soviets is harsh compared to the 83% chance for Nato tanks)

Meanwhile there's also a 30% chance of the Soviet taking a hit (which would happen first and if it happens can reduce the chance of hitting the Nato tank to 25%). Every attack on a Nato Tank in the open has that 30% chance of causing a defensive fire hit on the Soviet. Even when damaged the Nato tank is risky to attack. So the expectation is in any initial attack the Soviet tanks will take stiff losses even if the Nato player doesn't do a lot of counter-attacking.

But the Nato player undamaged tank has a combat DRM of 5, actually 6 against Soviet infantry in the open. Against the Soviet defenses of 10... he hits on a 5 or better. and the Soviet defensive fire only kicks in on a natural 4, only a 8.3% chance causing Nato damage. At a role 4 higher than the defense, the damage doubles. It's really hard to stop the Nato player from mauling the Soviets even as he takes damage. There is another hitch though. Even if the ratio of units favors the Soviets, the higher combat strengths mean the Nato units have more steps to lose.

This dicing difference is corrected by providing a higher ratio of Soviet units to Nato, a likely event for the alternate history. The ratio needs more balance based on steps though, not just units. This is useful to balance the game.

The dice can favor either player. The effect of rolling enough dice on a regular basis is that it will even up statistically... though also the way random events work, it doesn't have to. Play of the game is going to be influenced in a brittle sense (brittle being hard to reverse even by skillful play) because probabilities start leaning in favor of the player with better early results.

The game is balanced at the beginning. But the probability outcomes are disheartening. I want to feel my skill determines the outcome. Given two players of equal skill, the play of the dice is going to change the balance. That does not make a game less fun. Keep in mind without chance in a wargame many events that cannot be controlled will not happen. Perfect intel is one of the common complaints in wargames. It doesn't mean you want a game based on pure chance either though.

For me, not everybody, this fails suspension of disbelief at first brush. I felt I was clearly playing against the system looking for advantages based in die roll efficiencies I could identify. . . I really do prefer to feel I'm winning from skill not because of chance (even if meant perhaps to replicate fog of war). I respect other people want the chaotic element fog of war to overcome, I dislike having the game flip flop just because random events don't balance in play. It takes the sense I'm playing the game and makes it so I feel I am being played.

Keep in mind this opinion is based on one and only one play of the game, any negative impression is to be considered somewhat skewed. But I am glad I got to use the CABS Library copy to learn how the game plays.
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Steven Bucey
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Quote:
The effect of rolling enough dice on a regular basis is that it will even up statistically... though also the way random events work, it doesn't have to. Play of the game is going to be influenced in a brittle sense (brittle being hard to reverse even by skillful play) because probabilities start leaning in favor of the player with better early results.


So, what you're saying is, given the way I tend to roll, I can blame your dice?

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Steven Bucey
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The more I think about it, the more I think my mistake was attacking that first night. The Soviet units can't afford any negative DRM, which night gives a -1 to every attack. I don't recall exact numbers, but I made several attacks, few of which were successful and most of which caused hits to my units. Had I just spent the time recovering and awaiting reinforcements I might have been able to press the advantage I had at the next day (you had nearly nothing left of the 1st Panzer).
 
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Gary Christiansen
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cratex wrote:
Quote:
The effect of rolling enough dice on a regular basis is that it will even up statistically... though also the way random events work, it doesn't have to. Play of the game is going to be influenced in a brittle sense (brittle being hard to reverse even by skillful play) because probabilities start leaning in favor of the player with better early results.


So, what you're saying is, given the way I tend to roll, I can blame your dice?



No, I'm saying the balance of the game changes according to early results in the combats. That means if someone wins enough early (in this case much of that was a reasonable die roll result) the game turns in their favor.
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Peter Bogdasarian
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WatchmanX2000 wrote:

What doesn't quite feel reasonable is the painful defensive fire impact from the initial natural die rolls. The Soviet player's tanks attacks start at 3 (used as a positive DRM). The Nato player's defense starts at 10 or 11. That means on 2 dice the chance of a straight up hit with the strongest Soviet unit at full strength is about a 28% chance of hitting the Nato tanks.


This is incorrect. A Soviet tank will hit a NATO tank on an 8+ on 2d6, which means it hits about 42% of the time - roughly 50% more often than your estimate.
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Gary Christiansen
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jormungandr wrote:
WatchmanX2000 wrote:

What doesn't quite feel reasonable is the painful defensive fire impact from the initial natural die rolls. The Soviet player's tanks attacks start at 3 (used as a positive DRM). The Nato player's defense starts at 10 or 11. That means on 2 dice the chance of a straight up hit with the strongest Soviet unit at full strength is about a 28% chance of hitting the Nato tanks.


This is incorrect. A Soviet tank will hit a NATO tank on an 8+ on 2d6, which means it hits about 42% of the time - roughly 50% more often than your estimate.


Oops. I slipped up and put the wrong numbers in. I was wrong. I'm apologize Pete.

But it's still a slippery slope since 30% of the time the Soviet is going to take hits. 41.6% is not enough to make up the difference when you're going to have 1/4-1/3 of the units at the lower value (27%) next turn, several more at 17% or less the next time they shoot.Each turn will still build against the Soviet player.

The Nato player in his attacks with undamaged tank units will hit on 83% (92% against the Soviet infantry in the clear) and the Soviet who leaves his undamaged units on top will be cut down from that 42% to 27% immediately. So in addition to the 1/4-1/3rd of the units damaged from attacks, there should be a batch added to that unless the Nato player is careless.

So it builds on each die roll that turns to one side's advantage. This seems to depend on the die rolls of the first encounter for the unit. And this seems to start from the first turn of actual combat happening.
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M. Kirschenbaum
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WatchmanX2000 wrote:
But it's still a slippery slope since 30% of the time the Soviet is going to take hits.


Sounds about right according to all those Tom Clancy books I've read!
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Gary Christiansen
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mkirschenbaum wrote:
WatchmanX2000 wrote:
But it's still a slippery slope since 30% of the time the Soviet is going to take hits.


Sounds about right according to all those Tom Clancy books I've read!


Sounds great but if the game is playing me, I'd rather just read the book. My point had more to do with the brittle play than the accuracy of the outcomes for a given firefight. It has to do with whether the game will allow reversal of fortune as a reward for playing well as the game wears on. If the outcome is a steadily building event, I don't see why I'd want to play. The game is balanced I think...but decided early in play.
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M. Kirschenbaum
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So we come to the conclusion that an attacking Soviet is going to take losses, and that the outcome of first contact matters. Forget Tom Clancy and Howard Coyle, sounds a lot like Sir John Hackett and Viktor Suvarov.

WatchmanX2000 wrote:
If the outcome is a steadily building event, I don't see why I'd want to play.


Because you have follow-on forces you can decide where and when to commit (Soviet doctrine would tell you only ever to reinforce success); because you can pull units off the line for recovery ("Nyet!"); because, perish the thought, your luck might change.
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Jim F
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Where the heck did this interest in WW1 come from?
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I agree with the War Monkey (who could disagree with anyone with such a great moniker). If the Soviets didn't suffer some eye watering casualties it would feel wrong to me. The way I'd get it to balance up is to make NATO more sensitive to casualties, possibly forcing some sort of pull back. I speed read through the rules on this one and it was clear fairly early on what kind of game it was. Fast play with the emphasis on getting a result. Sounds like that's what you had and then it's down to a matter of taste.
 
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Gary Christiansen
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mkirschenbaum wrote:
So we come to the conclusion that an attacking Soviet is going to take losses, and that the outcome of first contact matters. Forget Tom Clancy and Howard Coyle, sounds a lot like Sir John Hackett and Viktor Suvarov.

WatchmanX2000 wrote:
If the outcome is a steadily building event, I don't see why I'd want to play.


Because you have follow-on forces you can decide where and when to commit (Soviet doctrine would tell you only ever to reinforce success); because you can pull units off the line for recovery ("Nyet!"); because, perish the thought, your luck might change.


Won't help. My point is still true. The game is brittle. The game becomes more difficult to reverse the outcome as you play. I said it was balanced. I just think the balance tilts and falls in the first 'day' of the game. That doesn't mean others won't enjoy it. Just that it becomes moot to me if good play can't reverse the outcome in the course of play.
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Gary Christiansen
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Ashiefan wrote:
I agree with the War Monkey (who could disagree with anyone with such a great moniker). If the Soviets didn't suffer some eye watering casualties it would feel wrong to me. The way I'd get it to balance up is to make NATO more sensitive to casualties, possibly forcing some sort of pull back. I speed read through the rules on this one and it was clear fairly early on what kind of game it was. Fast play with the emphasis on getting a result. Sounds like that's what you had and then it's down to a matter of taste.


Snort. Okay. The casualties of the Soviets wasn't my point. My point had more to do with how the balance falls so swiftly to one side or the other and becomes pretty set early on.
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Mark
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DEL is definitely a numbers game, lots of dice rolling (Initiative, combat, and recover). But, not so much that it's purely luck driven, and good strategy and tactics will make a difference.

I've only played Scenario 1 once, and some good luck on the part of the Soviets early on did put them up for the game. But, the game was not a foregone conclusion, and it did come down to a fight for Eisenbach's single hex on the last turn. Having said that, I don’t discount the OP's conclusion, if one side gets clobbered early on, it might be too hard to recover (I dunno, NATO probably can, the Soviets probably can’t). But, if I’m reading correctly, the OP is talking about just Scenario One, not necessarily the entire game system. The critique may not apply to the other four scenarios, which I think are more free flowing. I played them first to get familiar with the game. They are good primers for the main scenario, and build proficiency. Nope, it’s not Rocket Surgery, but figuring out how to sequence attacks, and stack properly (and, uh, not attacking on the first night, Gen. Suvarov) may mitigate the problem of early failure in Scenario One.

Well written, thought-provoking post.
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Jim F
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Where the heck did this interest in WW1 come from?
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I think your main point got lost in a myriad of othersninja. Made interesting reading though and I'm still undecided about whether to get it.
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Steven Bucey
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(and, uh, not attacking on the first night, Gen. Suvarov)


Yea, I think things would have been much more interesting for Gary had I not done that.

But, to Gary's point, by the start of the second day most of my units had taken at least one hit, and as I sat there working out the odds I realized that if I attacked I was ask likely to take damage as he was, and though I had more units he had enough steps that it tended to balance. He had come to the same conclusion, but further realized that if he attacked, since the Soviet chances of a counter attack are much less he would have an advantage, and so by the end of the second day I had been pounded hard.

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Steven Bucey
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Made interesting reading though and I'm still undecided about whether to get it.


I recommend at least trying it if you can find a friend with a copy to try. Even though I lost, it was fun and both players have important choices to make throughout the game. It is easy to learn, and it's the cleanest set of rules I've seen in a LONG time.

Besides, there is room for a couple of house rules that might help to mitigate the knife edge balance. For instance, combining reduced units would make a big difference.
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Peter Bogdasarian
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Ok, now I'm wound up. There's a mechanic within the game designed to help a player recover his forces (something I've not seen in any other operational level design) - the problem here, is it is occurs at night and the Soviet player chose to pass it up to attack. Remember the scene in Aliens? "Ripley, you're just grinding metal..." Well, that's what happened here. The Soviets took their already exhausted force and smashed it permanently, which took a bad Day One result and made it final.

This is a game which won't force you to do what I think is "best," but that means you have the freedom to make bad choices as a player. While the game mechanics are easy, there is a learning curve in how they work and it sounds like the Soviets got on the wrong side of it here.
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Peter Bogdasarian
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cratex wrote:

Besides, there is room for a couple of house rules that might help to mitigate the knife edge balance. For instance, combining reduced units would make a big difference.


I didn't include this here because I felt, within the short time span presented by the game, that combining shot up forces would take too long to be effective on the tabletop (and it also represented an additional rules burden for the players). IMO it would take at least two impulses to get even a semblance of order in such a force (they should also be from the same parent division).
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Mark
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Besides, there is room for a couple of house rules that might help to mitigate the knife edge balance. For instance, combining reduced units would make a big difference.


To change game balance, change the basic Defensive Fire numbers. To boost the Soviets, instead of a 7 for NATO, use a 6. To boost NATO (albeit, not as much) instead of a 4 for the Soviet’s go to a 3.

Some of the numbers game is perception. Most Soviet attacks fail, so the Soviet player must occasionally "get lucky" (42%?) to wear down NATO. And, the more full strength attacks the Soviet makes, the more he wears down NATO.

NATO appears to not need to get so "lucky." If NATO always rolls average, it will crush the Soviets. Most NATO attacks hit, and a fair number inflict two hits. But, NATO attacks less often. And, step losses for NATO can quickly become critical. Its attacks become less effective, and NATO cannot easily afford to loose whole units. Occasionally NATO fails to hit, and sometimes it gets “unlucky” and takes a critical hit in return.

Because of the advantages NATO has in the numbers game, two reduced NATO units are more powerful than one full strength NATO unit. The Soviet player must eliminate NATO units. Two NATO armor units have 8 steps between them. Instead of 7 or 8 hits, the Soviet player only needs to inflict 4 hits to eliminate one of them.

The game relies on die rolls that deviate significantly from the average. These can make the game seem like it takes excessive luck to win or loose.

Is this perfectly balanced? I don’t know. I do know that the game does not have a mechanism that causes a big shift, such as cutting off retreats or cutting supply. Throughout the game, the numbers game remains the same. The game is also typical of LNLP games that victory conditions dominate. You may not be able to cut off the other guy’s army, but you can win by sneaking around him and taking one city hex.
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Steven Bucey
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Quote:
but that means you have the freedom to make bad choices as a player.


And I'm really good at making bad choices!
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Steven Bucey
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I didn't include this here because I felt, within the short time span presented by the game, that combining shot up forces would take too long to be effective on the tabletop (and it also represented an additional rules burden for the players). IMO it would take at least two impulses to get even a semblance of order in such a force (they should also be from the same parent division).


OK.
 
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Steven Bucey
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Ok, now I'm wound up.


Sorry.
 
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Gary Christiansen
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cratex wrote:
Quote:
Ok, now I'm wound up.


Sorry.


Heh. Pete is a growed up. I'm sure he will smile after he thinks about it and realize that just cause it's not to the taste of a few people (especially since it was argued the game balance is there) that he'll be fine. I'm not as convinced his recovery mechanism works, but at least he has reason to believe it will where we can clearly point to that having been a bad choice.

But it's not to my taste none the less. And that is NOT Pete's fault. I'm not complaining and saying others shouldn't try it. I'm saying there is an issue for me others may have too. I would believe he is able to accept that and do a well measured "harrumph, harrumph" at me. Just as I can say, I'm not interested in replay on this now. It's not a personal attack on Pete. Harrumph Harrumph.
 
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Mark
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WatchmanX2000 wrote:
that just cause it's not to the taste of a few people...he'll be fine.

Other people share your opinion, or is this an assumption?

WatchmanX2000 wrote:
I'm not as convinced his recovery mechanism works, but at least he has reason to believe it.

Ya think? You played the game once, and misplayed the recovery system, he designed the game, and probably played it a few more times than that.

WatchmanX2000 wrote:
But it's not to my taste none the less. And that is NOT Pete's fault.

Well, that's certainly generous.

WatchmanX2000 wrote:
I'm not complaining and saying others shouldn't try it. I'm saying there is an issue for me others may have too.

Again with the "others."

WatchmanX2000 wrote:
I would believe he is able to accept that and do a well measured "harrumph, harrumph" at me.

Again, very generous.

WatchmanX2000 wrote:
Just as I can say, I'm not interested in replay on this now. It's not a personal attack on Pete. Harrumph Harrumph.

Thanks for that assurance, because you and "the others" don't really have a reason for personal attacks, do you?

I'm messing with you, but this post probably does not come off as you intended. If it does, then you probably should not have written it.
 
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Gary Christiansen
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ZombieMark wrote:
I'm messing with you, but this post probably does not come off as you intended. If it does, then you probably should not have written it.


Oh, it was fine. Your contempt does no harm either. If he wants to get worked up, that's his business. I'm not worried about someone being upset with me for giving my impression of the game. If anything, it's now even less interesting to me.
 
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